Sverdrup’s name ‘taken in vain’

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Johan Sverdrup, often viewed as the “father” of Norway’s parliamentary system and even its democracy, has now had an oil field named for him, but not everyone is pleased about that. Some claim his name is being used in vain, or even abused, by being associated with the oil industry.

Johan Sverdrup's name has now been attached to an oil field. PHOTO: Wikipedia

Norway’s bullish Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe announced earlier this week that the field known as Aldous/Avaldsnes, in the North Sea west of Stavanger, was being re-named as the Johan Sverdrup Field. The field is the site of one of Norway’s largest oil discoveries ever, and is destined to attract huge investment and activity over the next several decades.

“The Norwegian petroleum adventure  belongs to all the Norwegian people,” Moe proclaimed in the announcement. “It’s therefore important that the names of major, independent projects have a signal effect. Johan Sverdrup was the leader of the political movement that pushed the parliamentary system forward and an important symbol for the growth and progress of a Norway ruled by its people.

“In the same way that Johan Sverdrup meant a lot for the formation of the modern Norway, I hope the new oil field will contribute to the development of the Norwegian democracy and our society in the future.”

Moe’s ministry had already decided to change the system of naming oil fields in Norway, which often have sprung from geographical areas, fairy tales or Norse mythology. The new system is supposed to use names tied to Norway’s constitution, its system of government or places and incidents a “signal effect.” Sverdrup’s name was proposed by a new advisory council appointed last year and including, among others, author Karsten Alnæs and former government minister Kristin Clemet.

Protests rose immediately, however, not least from environmental groups that Moe often has been at odds with. They claimed that renaming the Aldous Field as the Sverdrup Field offended, rather than honored, Sverdrup and even “dirtied” his name.

Arild Fremstad, head of the organzation Framtiden i våre hender (The Future in our Hands), pointed to the polluting nature of the oil industry and said he strongly doubted whether Sverdrup, would have wanted to be associated with an oil field. Sverdrup came from a rural background, was an active mountain climber in his day and lived on a farm just outside the city limits when he moved to Oslo, then known as Christiania.

Moe was undaunted and took the name in use immediately. Sverdrup died in 1892.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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