Oil and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe now wants to open up waters off scenic Lofoten for oil drilling later this year, stirring up a heated debate among government allies, opposition politicians and members of his own Center Party. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party rejected Moe’s comments and said the area would remain closed for oil drilling at least during the current parliamentary term, which ends later this year.
“The next parliamentary term is an option, which starts at the end of this year,” Moe told state broadcaster NRK after saying much the same at an oil industry conference in Sandefjord on Tuesday. The minister has been enthusiastically promoting more exploration all along Norway’s continental shelf, is now keen to venture onto Iceland’s as well, and in the waters around the Arctic island of Jan Mayen. On Tuesday he targeted what he claims is the “already-opened” portion of the Nordland VI field in the Norwegian Sea. That’s what really set off debate.
One of his government colleagues, Sverre Valen of the Socialist Left party (SV), which is firmly opposed to drilling off Lofoten and Vesterålen in the Norwegian Sea, suggested Moe should calm himself with a cold soft drink. Knut Arild Hareide of the opposition Christian Democrats party said on the floor of Parliament Wednesday that “for once, the (anti-alcohol) Christian Democrats might like to offer something a bit stronger.” He stressed afterwards that Moe’s comments defied government policy to keep the area closed to drilling until the next parliamentary period.
The oil ministry is currently working on impact assessment and geological mapping related to petroleum activity in specified areas in the southeastern Barents Sea, Norway’s new territory bordering Russia, as well as around Jan Mayen. It’s due to reveal its results later this year.
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was confronted with Moe’s comments by the opposition in Parliament on Wednesday and said the government’s policy stood firm – to not open up for drilling during this parliamentary term. Elections are due in September.
Internal party battle
Moe’s enthusiasm for more oil and gas exploration and drilling is also met with skepticism among fellow party members. In the party’s program for a potential new Parliamentary term, the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp) suggests protecting the area also for the next four years.
“I think we will see a real discussion about this also in Sp,” Borten Moe said, reflecting he will work hard towards a turnaround at the main party meeting this year.
Hareide, stressing that Moe’s comments directly contradict his own government’s policy, added that Stoltenberg needed to clarify whether Moe’s comments were “in line with the government’s policy or whether the government’s members can have their own private policies on the side.”
Stoltenberg said he understood Moe’s comments to be part of the internal party discussion about potential exploration in Lofoten and Vesterålen in the next parliamentary term.
The government’s willingness to consider exploration in colder, deeper and more remote waters than ever before is fueling more debate over the risks of spills and concern for sheer human safety. Numerous consultative bodies involved in the impact assessment process have voiced critical opinions about opening up these areas and the state’s own experts at the Climate and Pollution Agency now called “Klif” (Klima- og forerensingsdirektoratet) last week strongly recommended against drilling around Jan Mayen. The area, Klif director Ellen Hambro told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), is far too environmentally sensitive and too far to reach in case of accidents. Moe rejected her recommendation the next day.
Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz
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