Arctic oil protesters mount drilling rig

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Climate activists opposed to Norway’s ongoing oil and gas exploration in the Arctic paddled out once again to a drilling rig moored off Hammerfest on Monday, and climbed up on it to let their protests be known. They demanded that Norway “take its share of responsibility for climate change,” and stop drilling for more oil and gas.

Activists headed out to the drilling rig Western Hercules, moored off the Northern Norwegian city of Hammerfest on Monday. Hammerfest has become a base for offshore oil and gas activity in recent years, which has been a huge boost for the local economy. PHOTO: Greenpeace/Jonne Sippola

“Drilling for oil in the Arctic while the region melts faster than ever is complete madness,” stated the head of Greenpeace Norway, Frode Pleym. He was joined by Haldis Helle, deputy leader of the youth environmental organization Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth).

Pleym added that the world is facing “a climate emergency” and needs to stop oil drilling. The protest action occurred while offshore company Seadrill’s rig West Hercules was located close to Hammerfest, as it prepared to head out for another season of oil drilling in the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea.

A majority of Norwegian politicians both in government and opposition continue to support Norway’s oil and gas industry because of all the jobs it creates and revenues it provides to the state treasury. Oil and gas have made Norway one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and government officials want to keep it flowing along with its cash proceeds. The price of a barrel of Norway’s North Sea crude is back up at high levels (nearly USD 72 on Monday) and that’s set off another boom among oil and oil service companies.

Protesters paddled around and up to the rig and started climbing up it, carrying banners reading “People against oil” and highlighting paragraph 112 of the Norwegian constitution, which calls on the state to provide future generations with a sustainable environment. Many environmentalists believe oil drilling violates the constitution and have sued the government, so far unsuccessfully. PHOTO: Greenpeace/Jonne Sippola

The current conservative government has carried on the previous left-center government’s program of opening up new areas of the Arctic for both exploration and eventual production of oil and gas. The exploration comes despite promises to cut carbon emissions, adherence to the UN’s Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees and claims that Norway wants to reverse climate change. Even members of Norway’s royal family are now being confronted with what many see as the hypocrisy of the country’s oil production.

“Norway needs to be a front-runner when it comes to stopping the search for new oil, and this (granting more offshore licenses for drilling and production) is not the way to do it,” Pleym argued. “The emissions coming from Norwegian oil are Norway’s responsibility, and we as a country are not honouring that.”

Greenpeace and Natur og ungdom (Nature and Youth) want to halt all exploration for new sources of oil and gas. PHOTO: Greenpeace/Jonne Sippola

Oil remains Norway’s biggest export product by far, “and it’s burned all over the world,” Greenpeace claimed in a press release on Monday. That makes Norway, Greenpeace stated, “the seventh largest exporter of climate-wrecking emissions on the planet.”

Helle told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that it’s “only been a few weeks since school students all over the country were out striking for the climate. We demand that Norway take its share of the responsibility for climate changes and stop looking for more oil and gas.”

A key demand of the striking students in Norway and many other countries is an end to new oil and gas exploration in Norwegian waters. Greenpeace noted that a recent study showed that a majority of Norwegians under the age of 24 favour leaving oil in the ground because of the climate crisis. Helle repeated calls for creation of new green jobs, not more jobs in the oil industry.

“Stop drilling in the Arctic” read this activist’s banner. They came from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. PHOTO: Greenpeace/Jonne Sippola

The activists climbing up the legs of the West Hercules came from Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Germany. The drilling rig is on charter to Norway’s state oil company which changed its name from Statoil to Equinor last year.

Morten Eek, spokesman for Equinor, told NRK that the company “respects the right to protest” but noted that “we have been granted the rights to drill after oil from a broad majority in Parliament.” He urged the activists not to do anything illegal or anything that could put themselves or others in danger.

Police watched from shore but said they didn’t intend to step in. “We have set up a dialogue with the parties,” Anders Bjørke-Olsen of the local police in Hammerfest told NRK. “For us, it’s first and foremost safey that we need to ensure.” He said the protest appeared to be “well within a good safety framework so far.”

Nor were there any demands from rig owner Seadrill to forcibly end the demonstration. The rig was closed and its workers sent home because of the demonstration, Bjørke-Olsen told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund