Greens: ‘Stop oil exploration now’

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UPDATED: The national spokesperson for Norway’s Greens Party is calling on the Conservatives-led government to immediately halt issuance of new oil and gas exploration licenses, and he’s won cautious support from some Conservative MPs. Arild Hermstad is also once again urging the government to eventually phase out oil production in much the same way Germany is phasing out coal.

Arild Hermstad, national spokesperson for the Greens Party, wants to immediately halt all licensing for more oil exploration and eventually phase out the industry. PHOTO: MDG

“Norwegian politicians must answer for what will happen with the oil sector if the (UN’s) Paris Agreement is carried out and climate goals are reached,” Hermstad told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend. Now it’s emerged that the goals for 2020 won’t be met and it’s unlikely Norway will fulfill its commitment to the Paris Agreement, largely because of the emissions generated by Norway’s offshore oil industry.

Hermstad thinks the most important thing is to stop all new licensing that would lead to further production. The next step, he told Aftenposten, would be for the government to set up a commission that could in turn set up a program for eventual phase-out of offshore oil. He referred to how Germany set up a commission that’s aimed at shutting down coal-fired power stations by 2038.

Finding answers
The Greens Party, which has long urged a gradual shutdown of Norway’s oil industry, will be proposing establishment of such a commission in Parliament. Hermstad calls it “a tool for finding the answers” to cut carbon emissions. He cited his party’s program that calls for “first and foremost stopping the issuance of new licenses” for oil exploration and production, followed by “a gradual decline in oil activity over a 15-year period.”

He admitted that his party’s program “isn’t especially realistic” since the government parties now have a majority in Parliament. None of the big parties are willing to dismantle Norway’s oil industry yet either, since it generates so many jobs and wealth for the nation. But he notes that carbon emissions will never be effectively cut in Norway as long as the country continues to produce fossil fuels that also create emissions elsewhere when burned.

Hermstad acknowledges that the offshore competence found in the oil industry is important and needed to, for example, produce hydrogen, develop carbon capture and storage systems and use for offshore wind energy projects. “We don’t need to keep looking for more oil and gas if we can develop those three things,” he said, adding that he hopes existing oil platforms could be used to produce wind energy.

Conservatives urge ‘discussion’
Some top politicians within the Conservative Party, meanwhile, are also raising some doubts about the future of the oil industry and how more areas of the Barents Sea should be protected from exploration and development. They’re eager for an open debate about oil policy with an eye to more significantly cutting the industry’s emissions.

“We need to have an honest discussion about nature preservation, and whether there are more areas that should be spared oil and gas development,” Henrik Asheim, a Member of Parliament and finance policy spokesperson who leads the Conservatives’ program committee, told newspaper Klassekampen this week. He agrees with fellow MP Lene Westgaard-Halle that especially the northern areas of the Barents Sea should be off-limits to oil exploration.

The Conservative politicians confirmed on state broadcaster NRK’s morning debate program Politisk kvarter Wednesday morning that they are also open to debate over the tax incentives and advantages granted to oil companies on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, and whether they should be pared back or suspended.

They met quick opposition from their own government partner, the Progress Party, which was among the last of Norway’s political parties to recognize climate change. Progress has since gone along with funding various measures meant to cut carbon emissions, but fiercely defends the oil and gas industry and has held political control of the oil ministry since Norway’s conservative coalition first won government power in 2013.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund