More oil sands’ static for Statoil

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Another demonstration against oil company Statoil was held outside the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo on Monday, with a broad alliance calling Statoil’s oil sands project in Canada a “shame” for Norway and Statoil itself. Meanwhile, in Turkmenistan, Statoil reportedly held a small demonstration of its own.

Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party (Venstre) was among politicians attending Monday's demonstration against Statoil's oil sands project, also called tar ("tjære") sands. PHOTO: Views and News

Politicians from the Christian Democrats, the Liberal Party (Venstre) and The Reds (Rødt) joined demonstrators from 26 environmental and socially minded organizations, demanding that Norway’s left-center government coalition in turn demand that Statoil pull out of the oil sands project. They see it as destructive and a large source of carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.

The Norwegian government remains a large owner of Statoil shares, so the demonstrators think the government has power to influence Statoil’s executives’ decisions. “The government must use the power it has as owner to pull Statoil out of dirty oil sands,” Truls Gulowsen of Greenpeace in Norway told a cheering crowd.

Government ministers, however, generally refrain from interfering in executive decisions made by the companies in which the state owns large stakes. At least one of the government coalition parties, the Socialist Left, opposes the oil sands project but apparently hasn’t been able to convince its partners, Labour and the Center Party, to go along. Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party has, instead, recently visited and praised Statoil’s oil sands site in Alberta, despite his party’s purported commitment to the environment. His support for the oil sands spurred a rebuke, however, from party colleagues.

The demonstration in Oslo coincided with the opening of the latest UN climate conference in South Africa. “We demand that Norway step forward as a good climate example and pull Statoil out of the oil sands,” claimed one protester, while parallel demonstrations were held in Bergen and Stavanger.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that their appeal was formally received by three politicians representing the government parties (Labour, the Center party and the Socialist Left) who also happen to agree with the demonstrators. “Those of us working to get Statoil out of the oil sands are happy for your support,” said Marianne Marthinsen of Labour, who’s working to convince her own party colleagues on the issue.

Tarred over Turkmenistan, too
Statoil, meanwhile, has also drawn criticism from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization, for its presence in Turkemenistan, considered one of the three least-democratic countries in the world along with North Korea and Chad. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Tuesday that Statoil was a sponsor of an oil and gas conference in Turkmenistan earlier this month.

Statoil held a small demonstration of its own, though, by being one of the few oil companies present to refrain from hailing Turkmenistan’s dictator or even mentioning him in opening remarks. While other oil companies reportedly paid the expected homage to the dictator, Statoil director Rolf Magne Larsen concentrated instead on the relevance of Norway’s own development of its petroeum sector for Turkmenistan. And he thanked the people of Turkmenistan, not their dictator, although he had to tolerate a large portrait of Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov hanging behind him.

“We were determined that we, in good Norwegian tradition, should thank the people,” Larsen told Aftenposten. “And besides, I only had 10 minutes and had to make my remarks as short as possible.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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