Statoil won’t drop oil sands project

Bookmark and Share

Norwegian state oil company Statoil faces loud protests over its involvement in a Canadian oil sands project, but insists on moving forward. The Norwegian government, Statoil’s biggest shareholder, is letting Statoil do so, despite claims the project is “dangerous, dirty and destructive.”

An oil sands project in Alberta, Canada continues to spark controversy in Norway. PHOTO: Views and News

“My job is not to run Statoil, but to work for reduction of climate emissions,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said this week, in the run-up to Statoil’s annual shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday. 

That’s precisely why many opponents of Statoil’s oil sands project think the government, as Statoil’s biggest owner, should demand that Statoil pull out of it. Full-page ads placed in Norwegian newspapers by 25 organizations and fronted by a renowned professor at Columbia University in New York called on Stoltenberg to “take climate leadership” and force Statoil’s withdrawal from a project “that will add to carbon emissions, damage Canadian forests and violate the human rights of native peoples.”

Professor James E Hansen of Columbia’s Earth Institute said that allowing Statoil’s participation will contribute to environmental destruction “where the consequences will be a steadily stronger, irreversible series of global climate catastrophes over the next century.”

Hansen, who also wrote a column in newspaper Aftenposten this week, claims the Alberta oil sands project, “as the most energy-demanding oil extraction process on the globe, represents the worst of what we’re doing to the planet, by extending our dependence on fossil fuels.”

He asked Stoltenberg “to end Norway’s engagement in this dangerous, dirty and destructive extraction” of oil.

Proposal voted down
Hansen’s plea, and those of organizations including WWF, Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and the Cree Nation, fell on deaf ears. The government refused to go along with other shareholders who also want Statoil to pull out of the oil sands project. A proposal calling for withdrawal was voted down at the annual meeting.

Statoil’s management admits that its oil sands project in Alberta creates “ethical challenges,” but that Statoil’s role as an oil and gas company must be at the foundation of its operations. The world, according to Statoil, needs more oil and new sources of oil.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that Statoil’s management had to listen, though, to a personal plea from a First Nations leader of the native population. “What you do with your money is your business, but when you use your money in my area, and destroy my life and my civilization, it becomes my business,” said Francois Paulette.

Even Norway’s conservative Progress Party, generally a proponent of oil and gas exploration, came out against Statoil’s involvement in the Alberta oil sands project.

Statoil’s involvement has put Norway’s government, which claims to be environmentally conscious,  in an awkward position. Two of the coalition government parties oppose it and the dominant Labour Party otherwise argues for emission cuts. All three parties, though, say they must abide by their policy not to meddle in the management of companies where the state is a major owner, even though Norway’s huge state pension fund (fueled by oil revenues) tries to main strict ethical guidelines on its own investments.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
Join our Forum if you’d like to comment on this story.