Active exploration doesn’t deter Moe

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New figures from Norway’s state oil directorate indicate that 2011 is shaping up as a top year for both oil exploration and discovery. That’s not stopping the country’s oil minister from promoting other controversial sources of oil and gas.

Ola Borten Moe (center) with Thomas Arisman (left), chief of Statoil's Leismer oil sands project in Alberta. At left, Lars Christian Bacher, also from Statoil. PHOTO: Olje- og energi departementet (OED)

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe landed in more trouble last week when he told a major Canadian newspaper, the Globe & Mail, that oil from the oil/tar sands projects in northern Alberta is necessary to meet world energy needs. Moe also criticized EU proposals to keep oil from the projects from entering the EU, because of the environmental damage they can cause.

Moe’s comments, the latest in a long line of disputed utterances from Norway’s still-new oil minister, immediately set off protests, not only from the environmentalists who oppose Norwegian company Statoil’s involvement in the Canadian oil sands projects but also from Moe’s colleagues in the Norwegian government and from within his own small Center Party. They were quick to point out that the government has not taken a position on the EU proposal, while fellow government minister Erik Solheim flat out said he disagreed with Moe’s conclusions.

Even Moe’s own party colleague, Erling Sande, told reporters that he saw a need to point out that the Center Party “puts much more weight on renewable sources of energy than Moe does.”

Undaunted by the criticism
Moe seemed once again to simply shake off all the criticism directed at him. He told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that it was nothing new for government ministers to disagree, and he all but scoffed at the heated remarks from environmental organizations such as Bellona, Friends of the Earth and WWF. Bellona’s leader, Frederic Hauge, has said Moe wants to boil the earth, and that his visions will lead to millions of people dying and forced off their lands.

To which Moe calmly replied that he thinks it would be good for Hauge and many others to visit the oil sands projects like he has. “I’ve registered that Hauge likes to yell at me,” Moe told DN. “I don’t take it very hard.” While in Ottawa, Moe met with his Canadian counterpart Joe Oliver and they signed a declaration on cooperation (external link) within petroleum extraction, carbon capture and renewable energy along with recognition of their responsibility to protect “the uniqueness of the Arctic ecosystem.”

Moe conceded that the Norwegian government has not discussed the EU proposal yet, nor has his own ministry studied the issue in detail or formed any conclusions. He wouldn’t say what’s behind his own conclusions, or who he’s been listening to. Moe did indicate he was impressed by Statoil’s oil sands operation, claiming that it hadn’t torn up the land, was “very clean, very orderly with no emissions.”

‘Contributing positively’
Most importantly, Moe repeated, is that enormous resources are needed to cover world needs, including oil from the oil/tar sands. The high tempo of offshore oil exploration isn’t enough, despite reports this week that around 50-55 wells will be drilled off Norway this year and some of them, like Aldous/Avaldsnes, are proving to hold some of the biggest oil discoveries off Norway ever. He also thinks Statoil is “contributing positively” to the development of oil extraction from the sands.

His critics are far from satisfied. While Bellona’s Hauge doesn’t even want to talk to Moe any longer, others actually have visited the oil sands and utterly disagree with Moe’s conclusions. Among them is Kari Elisabeth Kaski of the environmental group Zero.

She told DN that Moe’s starting point is “completely wrong” and that rather, the world needs more renewable sources of energy and lower emissions to curtail climate change. Kaski claimed increased production from oil sands only makes it more difficult to make renewable energy profitable.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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