‘Moon landing’ crashes for Jens

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Outgoing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg logged one of the biggest failures of his political career on Friday when his government had to announce that its long-hyped full-scale carbon capture plans at Statoil’s Mongstad gas plant were being shelved. Stoltenberg had famously likened the plans to the equivalent of a Norwegian “moon landing,” but it never got off the ground.

Carbon capture efforts at Statoil's Mongstad have become much more expensive as the project that Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg once called the equivalent of Norway's "moon landing" has been repeatedly delayed. Industry officials don't think new climate measures will be realized. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

Full-scale carbon capture at Statoil’s Mongstad became far more expensive than predicted and the project had been repeatedly delayed. Now Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s outgoing government is discontinuing the project, and should be extremely ashamed, according to bitterly disappointed environmental activists. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

“The costs became higher and the project became more uncertain,” Oil & Energy Ola Borten Moe of the Center Party said when Stoltenberg’s Labour-led coalition government announced, after eight years and billions of kroner in investment, that it was “discontinuing” the project that government officials earlier had deemed so important. “It was best for the government to see this now,” Moe added, saying that the risk connected to the Mongstad facility was too high. Moe said work on the project would cease by January 1, and would be replaced by a carbon capture and storage program.

Moe insisted that work at the Mongstad test center would continue and that “a full-scale CO2 capture facility is still the objective.” He said the government still had a goal of having a carbon-capture operation by 2020, and had granted extra funding for the test center, which he called “unique in the world.” Stoltenberg himself claimed that the most important thing was to develop new technology for carbon capture. The carbon capture itself was supposed to have started next year.

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe (right) announcing the end of efforts for full-scale carbon capture at Statoil's Mongstad plant. At left, Bård Vegar Solhjell, minister for the environment from the Socialist Left party (SV), who faces strong criticism over the decision as well. PHOTO: Olje- og Energi Departementet

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe (right) announcing the end of efforts for full-scale carbon capture at Statoil’s Mongstad plant. At left, Bård Vegar Solhjell, minister for the environment from the Socialist Left party (SV), who faces strong criticism over the decision as well. PHOTO: Olje- og Energi Departementet

The so-called “reorganization” of the programs at Mongstad means, however, that emissions will continue for the foreseeable future. Environmental activists were merciless in their condemnation of the Stoltenberg government’s failure to realize its ambitious carbon capture goals that were a vital part of efforts to reduce Norway’s high level of carbon emissions from its oil industy.

“We have been terribly fooled by this government,” Frederic Hauge of environmental organization Bellona told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “This day will stand as a symbol of the government’s incompetence when it comes to climate technology.”

‘Day of shame’
Hauge said the shutdown at Mongstad was “one of the ugliest crash-landings I’ve seen,” with eight years of work down the drain. He added that he thought it was “day of shame” for Stoltenberg’s left-center government, which lost power in last week’s parliamentary election.

Lars Haltbrekken of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) had never had faith in the project and criticized the government’s deal with Statoil that allowed the company to start production at Mongstad without carbon capture from day one.

Silje Lundberg of the youth environmental group Natur og Ungdom called for shutting down the entire gas plant, to halt emissions. “It’s hair-raising that the government’s climate policies are so irresolute that they’re still letting the gas plant operate,” Lundberg told NRK. “It’s time to close down the whole mess.” Haltbrekken agreed.

Oil Minister Moe rejects criticism
Moe, as usual, wouldn’t accept the criticism. “Many will surely criticize the government’s goals and follow-through,” he told NRK, “but we can’t be criticized for being ambitious in trying to solve our time’s biggest problem.”

That boils down to how Norway’s oil and gas industry continues to threaten the climate and the environment, with Norway’s per capita emissions high. Stoltenberg’s government has seemed much more keen to donate large sums of money to save rain forests and fund other countries’ efforts to cut emissions elsewhere in the world, than to seriously cut emissions at home in Norway.

The government’s decision to finally end its full-scale carbon capture efforts is also a major blow to coalition partner the Socialist Left (SV), which had been harshly criticized for going along with the decision to allow Mongstad to start up production without full-scale carbon capture. Environment Minister Bård Vegar Solhjell of SV tried to justify the decision announced Friday to end carbon capture efforts, saying “we are at a crossroads” and that the government had to “consider other possible projects that can be realized by 2020.” He gamely added that “we have gained valuable experience at Mongstad, which can be of use in other projects.”

The decision to drop the full-scale carbon capture comes after last week’s parliamentary elections, and was released on a Friday afternoon, a time often chosen by politicians and business leaders when they need to report bad news. It’s unlikely the matter will be forgotten, though, over the weekend.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund