Just a week after the Norwegian government finally secured what it calls “the greenest budget” in history, Oil Minister Tord Lien was moving forward with expansion of oil activity in the Arctic. Environmentalists were moving just as quickly to try to stop it, claiming that the oil industry seems to have won exemptions from the carbon emission cuts demanded from the rest of the population.
Lien insisted his ministry’s plans are an important part of managing Norway’s natural resources. The ministry’s proposal to expand oil and gas exploration into 87 more blocs of the Norwegian continental shelf set off immediate protests.
Silje Ask Lundberg leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet) slammed what her organization calls a “short-cut” to more oil industry development at a time when Norway is supposed to cut carbon emissions, not clear the way for creating more, especially in sensitive Arctic areas.
“The entire allocation (of licenses for potential new oil fields) must be stopped,” Lundberg claimed. Her organization also wants to scrap the ministry’s so-called TFO system, which involves allocation of exploration licenses in areas already broadly designated for oil activity. In this case, the 87 new blocs include 53 in the Barents and 24 in the Norwegian Sea. The ministry describes them as “mature” portions of the continental shelf where the geology is familiar and infrastructure exists.
Minister calls Barents a ‘petroleum province’
“Allocation of new prospective exploration areas is a pillar of the government’s petrolem policy, and a very important tool in resource management,” Lien stated in announcing the new “TFO 2017” licensing round. He conceded it involved a “considerable expansion” of exploration in the Barents, noting that it will lead to “overall development of the Barents Sea as a petroleum province.” That’s important, he claimed, “for value creation, growth and jobs, especially for Northern Norway.”
Both the Finnmark and Troms chapters of the Labour Party recently voted against allowing oil exploration off Lofoten and Vesterålen, as have all municipalities in the area. Lien nonetheless cited “broad support” in the Norwegian Parliament for an increase in offshore exploration activity. “That’s been a central part of Norwegian petroleum policy for a long time,” he told news bureau NTB. “But as soon as we propose expanding beyond more than one bloc, someone disagrees. We just have to be prepared for that.”
Lundberg was clearly among those disagreeing. She claimed it marked “a dramatic expansion” of Norway’s offshore exploration areas that “exceeds the definition of a mature area. In the Barents Sea there is only one oil platform today. Tord Lean nonetheless defines nearly half the Barents Sea as ‘a mature area,’ so that he can lock up more exporation licenses for the foreseeable future.”
‘Exemptions’ for the oil industry
Friends of the Earth Norway believes the TFO system undermines offshore environmental management and hinders necessary restrictions on the oil industry to cut emissions and halt climate change. Even though the government just finally won support for its state budget after huge debate over how “green” it was, Lundberg noted that “it looks like (Prime Minister) Erna Solberg and Tord Lien are letting the oil industry have exemptions from the climate measures the rest of the country are subject to.”
The southernmost bloc in the Norwegian Sea, just north of Kristiansund, adjoins the so-called “Møre bloc,” which has been protected from oil activity after demands from the government’s two support parties. They’ve echoed concerns for fishing in the area. Lien contended the new bloc does not extend into Møre because of the environmental sensitivities. He also stressed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that none of the new blocs lies near the edge of Arctic ice.
Lundberg wasn’t satisfied. Several of the blocs now proposed for exploration are in areas where state environmental agencies have warned against oil drilling. “This government steadily sets new records in ignoring advice from its own state agencies,” she said.