Reaction was fast and furious after Prime Minister Erna Solberg not only announced that her government wants to increase offshore oil exploration but also open up areas off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen to oil and gas activity. It was music to the ears of the oil industry she was addressing in Stavanger on Monday, but a huge disappointment for those worried about oil’s carbon emissions and the climate.
“This just shows how empty and full of holes the government’s climate concern really is,” claimed Silje Lundberg, deputy leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth, Naturvernforbundet.
Lundberg wasn’t the only one upset. Greenpeace leader Truls Gulowsen accused Solberg and her government of “taking the future to the casino, and betting that we don’t reach our climate goals.” He believes the government is sacrificing its most vulnerable offshore areas by opening up for oil drilling and production off Northern Norway. He called it “meaningless” for Norway to further expand exploration “when the world can’t burn more than a fraction of the fossil fuel resources already found.”
‘Irresponsible, indecent and greedy’
Fredric Hauge of Bellona claimed Solberg’s decision to expand oil and gas exploration instead of cutting it back was “a decision that will be condemned in the light of history as irresponsible, indecent and greedy.” Before even appearing at the Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) conference on Monday, Solberg had already told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) over the weekend that she supported the oil industry and wants to nurture it, because it creates the most value for Norway’s economy.
She said it was “important” to search for new oil reserves off Lofoten and Vesterålen because those areas “need more economic stimulation.” She told DN that it was important for the Norwegian economy to extend Norway’s oil age, so that eventually becoming less oil dependent wouldn’t be so painful. “Our challenge ahead is to continue to stimulate an oil and gas business in Norway so that we can buy time to restructure other parts of the economy,” she told DN. “We will have oil and gas for many years ahead.” That’s why she favours “new investments and new development.”
Critics were disgusted. Lundberg of Friends of the Earth slammed Solberg’s suggestion that Vesterålen and Lofoten were losing population because of a lack of economic development. “It’s just the opposite!” Lundberg exclaimed. “These areas have had phenomenal population growth since 2009 without oil activity,” she added, referring to the record growth of the tourism and fishing industries there. The fishing and seafood industry, meanwhile, has also been highly skeptical towards seismic exploration that can scare away schools of fish and it fears drilling, because of the risk of pollution.
Economy more important than the climate
Despite years of rhetoric over alleged climate concern and the need to cut carbon emissions, Solberg clearly is putting a priority on Norway’s own economic needs and district politics. Instead of announcing plans to cut back on oil activity, which generates fully a fourth of Norway’s still-rising emissions, Solberg asked the oil industry assembled for this year’s ONS conference in Stavanger to come forth with their favourite exploration areas. Her government was “delivering new areas” as it cranks up for the 24th licensing round before next summer.
“This is a joyful day,” claimed Solberg’s oil minister, Tord Lien of the Progress Party, during a press conference at ONS on Monday,
For many others, it was anything but. Solberg remained characteristically firm, even defiant. “There are very good prospects for this business (oil) in the future,” she insisted, and claimed its importance will keep rising “even if we talk about restructuring and changes.” And even though her government had to promise not to actively pursue exploration off Lofoten during this parliamentary period which ends next year, becaue it’s so controversial, she maintains that “we should develop Lofoten and Vesterålen. I believe it’s fully possible to do that in a sustainable manner so that oil and gass can live well alongside other businesses.”
Bellona’s Fredric Hauge scoffed at that: “She’s betting that we will lose the climate campaign with what she’s doing now.”