Lofoten ‘saved’ from oil, for now

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The scenic and highly popular coastal areas around Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja in Northern Norway will likely be spared from controversial oil exploration and production activity offshore. The oil industry is unhappy, but political reality has even set in among trade unions and other organizations keen on the jobs oil activity could create.

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

Local activists who’ve been protesting the prospect of oil exploration and production off the scenic coasts of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja can rest easier that “the devil has taken the oil,” as called for in this protest message in Svolvær. Most all earlier proponents of oil activity are now giving up the fight, at least until after the next national election in 2021. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The first signs that oil companies could forget plans to drill for oil off Lofoten any time soon came last winter, when Norway’s conservative government coalition was expanded to include the Liberal Party. The Liberals have long opposed oil activity all along the coast, and they effectively won veto rights regarding Lofoten within a government that otherwise favours more oil production.

The opposition Labour Party, meanwhile, has been torn between environmental concerns and the jobs and wealth that oil activity can create. In recent weeks, however, local Labour chapters in Nordland County have publicly come out in opposition to oil exploration and production off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja (referred to as LoVeSe), favouring further development of the local fishing industry instead. The large and lucrative fishing industry has long opposed oil drilling in their waters.

‘Dead horse’
Even Bjørnar Skjæran, the leader of Labour in Nordland who has earlier wanted to open the area to oil interests, called the Lofoten issue “a dead horse,” and he won support from Labour in Rogaland County. Newspaper Klassekampen noted how that means two important oil regions for Labour are giving up their fight to open up LoVeSe to the drilling rigs.

Hans-Christian Gabrielsen, leader of Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO, is also yielding to the pressure against oil. He told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend that he sees little point in spending more time on the issue when the government has effectively bowed out as well.

“Labour arrived at a good compromise at its national meeting last year,” Gabrielsen told Dagsavisen, noting how the party voted to launch the so-called konsekvensutredning report for some areas, wait for more information regarding other areas and postpone studies elsewhere for the period 2017-2021. Gabrielsen claimed the compromise “took good care of environmentally important areas” while opening up new areas for development. As long as the Liberal Party has “parked” discussion of LoVeSe, though, he acknowledged that “nothing will happen” at least until 2021. “Then we can take it up again,” he said.

Seeking ‘other opportunities’
Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre insists that his party’s program still stands regarding LoVeSe, but that it was “natural” for debate to continue. “In reality,” he acknowledged to newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), “the government has set aside alternatives for oil activity.” Then it’s also natural, he claimed, for Labour’s local chapters in the area “to look for other business opportunities.”

The hotly contested issue of oil exploration off Lofoten didn’t even come up at a major party leader debate in Arendal on Tuesday night. Oil industry lobbyists were still pushing for it during the day, but DN otherwise reported that local politicians were moving towards lasting preservation of the area. Results of a new study released by Norway’s Institute of Marine Research (Havforskningsinstituttet) will likely further their cause: It shows that fish larvae wouldn’t survive any serious oil spill, a serious warning for an area known as a major breeding grounds for cod and other fish.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund