Oil minister still looks to the north

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Strong opposition to oil exploration and production off Lofoten has forced Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe to give up his effort to allow it, at least for now, but he’s still bullish on Norway’s northern areas. More young Norwegians, meanwhile, are also planning to work in the oil and gas sector.

Lofoten, oil - grafitti on a stone in Svolvær, march 2013

“The devil (can) take the oil” reads this expletive sprayed on a rock in Lofoten, clearly by someone opposed to oil drilling off the scenic northern area. Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe, however, remains bulllish, and increasing numbers of Norwegian youth want to work in the offshore industry. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Moe, deputy leader of the small Center Party that’s long had control of the Oil & Energy Ministry, is gearing up for this weekend’s annual party meeting where he knows he’ll face opposition over his enthusiasm for oil drilling. The party promotes itself as being environmentally oriented, with many of its members opposed to exploration and production in sensitive Arctic areas.

That’s why Moe ended up backing away late last month from his promotion of opening up oil fields off Lofoten and Vesterålen, which aren’t only known for their stunning scenery but for their rich fishing grounds as well. He realized his proposal wouldn’t gain support at the annual meeting so he’s setting it aside for now.

He still feels, however, that Norway’s energy future lies in the far north. He sees the development of the Norwegian oil industry in an historical perspective, beginning with Ekofisk in Norway’s relatively southerly waters, continuing in the North Sea and up to the 62nd parallel, roughly off the West Cape. He claims the industry has progressed north when the time was ripe.

Moe set off more fuss recently, though, when he was quoted as saying drilling could continue all the way to the North Pole. “It was interpreted as though Santa Claus would be getting a visit next week,” Moe told Aftenposten on Tuesday, in the run-up to his party’s meeting. He says the current debate over drilling off Lofoten reminds him of the debate over drilling north of the 62nd parallel.

“I won’t make any judgments over who was right, but I register that there’s lots of activity in the Norwegian Sea, in the Barents Sea (both far north of the 62nd parallel), and that there’s never been so many fish,” Moe told Aftenposten.

He stresses that the industry has dealt well with technology and risk, now up to the 74th parallel. “There’s no Berlin Wall there,” Moe said. Asked whether there will be drilling north of that someday,  Moe said he didn’t know, “but what I do know, is that Norway ends at 88 degrees north.”

Oil enthusiasm spreads to youth
The heavy interest and investment in the oil and gas industry clearly is attracting the next generation of Norwegian youth. A recent survey shows that nearly half of all Norwegians between the ages of 15 and 19 are eyeing a career or at least a job in Norway’s most important export industry.

The survey, conducted by research firm Ipsos MMI for news bureau ANB (Avisenes Nyhetsbyrå) showed that the portion of youth who now view the offshore industry as attractive has grown by 7 percent just in the past year.

“This is very good news,” said Jan Hodneland, a director in the industry trade organization Norsk Olje og Gass (Norwegian Oil & Gas). Nine of 10 teenagers asked said the offshore industry had a good future. Only three out of 10, however, were aware of what kind of education they needed to work “in oil.” Hodneland was undaunted.

“The survey confirms the importance of a professional advisory service in the schools,” he told news bureau NTB.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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