Oil & Energy Minister Kjell-Børge Freiberg set off more sparks heading into the weekend, when he invited oil companies to apply for 90 new exploration licenses on oil and gas fields his ministry is opening on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Freiberg is thus once again defying the state’s own professional advisers, in addition to all those opposed to searching for and producing more oil, includng thousands of Norwegian youth.
“I’m extremely pleased with this year’s proposal for expansion (of Norway’s oil industry),” Freiberg stated. He called the practice of divvying up Norwegian offshore areas for exploration and production a “pillar of the government’s petroleum policy.”
The call for bids on the fields involves expansion of five blocs in the North Sea, 37 in the Norwegian Sea and 48 in the Barents Sea. The latter is the most controversial, because of its location in the sensitive Arctic.
Newspaper Aftenposten noted over the weekend that the new licensing round is the first since Norway’s state auditor general (Riksrevisjonen) harshly criticized relations between the oil companies and state regulators at Petroleumtilsynet. The regulator has later apologized for not being tough enough on the oil companies, while other state authorities have also criticized a lack of preparedness for accidents and oil spills in Norway’s far northern areas.
Freiberg, from the conservative Progress Party, seemed to dismiss all the concerns, as he has on earlier occasions. “We’re continuing the practice of regularly offering new licenses for exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, to give the oil industry access to new areas,” Freiberg stated in a press release. He added that he had faith that oil companies were still interested in exploring Norwegian offshore territory, in the hopes of finding more oil and gas reserves.
The call for bids on 90 new fields set another new record, according to Aftenposten, up from last year’s record of 83.
Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left party (SV) who earlier headed Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet), was livid. He claimed that Freiberg’s move to allow further expansion of Norway oil industry, at a time when those concerned about climate change want it reined in, shows how “he hasn’t learned a thing” from the state auditor general’s criticism either.
“Several of the fields the government is now offering to the oil companies are vulnerable areas, where the government’s own environmental experts have advised against all forms of petroleum activity,” Haltbrekken told Aftenposten. “The government continues to ignore all professional advice against oil operations.”
Skepticism and opposition
Earlier hearings held in connection with the new licensing round have revealed skepticism and opposition to the Norwegian government’s accommodation of the oil industry. Norway’s state Institute of Marine Research (Havforskningsinstituttet) has warned against granting exploration licenses that lie in breeding areas for fish and sponge.
The Norwegian Coastal Administration (Kystverket) has warned that many of the new oil and gas fields are located in areas where preparedness for accidents such as oil spills is low, while the state environmental directorate (Miljødirektoratet) has stressed the climate-related risk of drilling for more oil. Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon was also confronted with climate concerns in South Pacific island nations like Fiji, where one elected official pleaded with him to get Norway to stop expanding its oil industry because of the carbon emissions generated by both it and the oil it produces.
Oil Minister Freiberg is also “slamming the door” on the thousands of Norwegian school children who’ve been protesting and striking because of climate concerns. “These are fields that can generate a lot of carbon emissions for many decades,” Haltbrekken told Aftenposten. “It’s high time the government emerges from the oil fog they’re sitting in.”