Norway’s state-owned oil and energy company Equinor publicly celebrated during the weekend as it started pumping up the first oil from its huge new Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea. Far from feeling guilty about producing more oil in the midst of ever-increasing conflicts over climate concerns, executives of the former Statoil found no reason to downplay what they view as something very good indeed.
“This is a great day both for Equinor and for Norway,” Anders Opedal, in charge of technology, projects and drilling at Equinor, claimed on national TV Saturday night. As he celebrated with pizza and soda while workers in control rooms cheered, Opedal noted that around NOK 10 million worth of oil had been pumped up just in the first two hours after the project launched production several months ahead of schedule.
“That creates even more value (for the Norwegian state) and shows how the project has set a new standard for being carried out with high quality,” Opedal told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). When it becomes fully operable, the Sverdrup field located just an hour’s helicopter ride from Stavanger will reportedly pump up oil worth an estimated NOK 300 million every single day.
Both Opedal and the company itself, via lengthy and detailed press releases (external link), also stressed how the Sverdrup field runs on electric power from land and “contributes strongly to how Norwegian oil and gas is produced with low emissions. If climate goals are to be met, it’s important that this kind of production is prioritized.”
He and other Norwegian oil industry officials and advocates firmly believe the world will continue to need oil for many years to come, not just for fuel but also for production of medicines, textiles, plastics and technological products and in other industries. They’re among those boasting that Norwegian-produced oil is “cleaner” than other countries’ oil, with Equinor even going so far as to claim that “not all barrels are created equal.”
Environmental and climate organizations were not impressed, with Greenpeace retorting that Equinor was resorting to “drastic greenwashing” and even trying to trick young people into believing oil production was good for the climate. Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund) claimed that the Sverdrup field will still generate 1.3 billion tons of carbon emissions over its estimated lifetime to 2078), long after Norway is supposed to have zero emissions.
Frederic Hauge of the environmental foundation Bellona pointed out that Equinor’s lower emissions from production are more than offset by all the emissions generated when its oil is used. “When it comes to how the climate is murdered, it doesn’t help that production of oil and gas is clean,” Hauge told NRK. Equinor’s CEO Eldar Sætre has conceded to that point, that most emissions are generated when the oil is burned. He and most Norwegian government officials still want to produce it, though, and insist it’s important to reduce emissions during production.
New battlegrounds emerge
Sverdrup’s production start-up comes amidst school climate strikes and just a week after the climate was arguably the highest item on the agenda at the recent UN General Assembly in New York. It also comes just as new battles are arising over other new oil projects on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, not least test drilling near Trænarevet (literally, Træna Reef) south of Lofoten. Politicians lost a lengthy fight to allow oil exploration off Lofoten itself, and Bellona has described Trænarevet off the coast of Nordland County as the next major battleground.
Newspaper Aftenposten recently reported how Bellona, Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth), the large fishing organization Norges Kystfiskarlag and the environmental federation Norges Miljøvernforbund have appealed to the Norwegian environmental directorate’s decision to allow test drilling led by German oil company Wintersall Dea. They fear not only threats to some of the world’s most valuable fishing grounds but also the reef itself and the marine life it represents.
Wintershall is keenly aware of the public debate and opposition to its drilling project, and claims it will take special precautions in the area that borders others where oil and gas activity is banned. The reef itself lies just 7.5 kilometers from the well to be drilled, 85 kilometers south of the island of Røst and 54 kilometers from the island called Træna itself, best known for its scenic beauty and summer music festival.
Winterhall spokesman Kjetil Hjertvik, however, objects to Bellona’s criticism and told NRK that the project “is planned with the smallest possible environmental footprint” and with enhanced oil spill preparedness equipment standing by. The environmental directorate based its decision to allow drilling on the Parliament’s decision to open the area, called the Toutatis field, despite concerns. The appeal has been sent to Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen with Bellona threatening civil disobedience if Elvestuen doesn’t stop the drilling.
Another internal government conflict
NRK reported recently that the Nordland chapter of Elvestuen’s Liberal Party was demanding that he halt Wintershall’s drilling: “It’s not just the chapter in Lofoten that wants to stop this, it’s party chapters along the entire Nordland coast,” Anja Johansen of Nordland Venstre told NRK. While Elvestuen wants to limit oil exploration and production himself, he’s part of a conservative government coalition in which other partners (not least the oil minister from Progress Party) are enthusiastic about oil and want to keep the industry thriving because of the jobs and wealth it creates. Aftenposten reported that Bellona, meanwhile, is poised to send its vessel used in protests, the Kallinika, to physically stop the project if necessary if Elvestuen doesn’t act.
While other oil exploration and production projects off Nordland face protests as well, one local newspaper was reporting mostly on the prospective economic benefits last summer. Brønnøysunds Avis noted that not since the “record summer” of 2013 had base operations in nearby Sandnessjøen had so much to do, providing jobs and boosting the local economy. Oil rigs in operation offshore “have been shown to provide the most activity on land,” the newspaper reported, since they and their crews often need pipes, equipment food, clothing and other supplies sent out by local supply boats.
One local company had three drilling rigs to service, while Aker BP was arriving with the rig Deepsea Stavanger to drill the “exciting” exploration well Vågar northeast of the Norne field. The Transocean Arctic rig was already working on the Godalen well east of Norne, while the Scarabeo 8 rig was drilling a new production well on the Marulk gas field for the newly merged company Vår Energi. That meant four rigs were in drift off the scenic Helgelands Coast last summer, even before Wintershall hoped to get underway.