Results of a new survey seem to defy all the rising protests against Norway’s oil and gas industry. The survey indicates that only 27.7 percent of all Norwegians actually want to turn off the drills and pumps, to help reverse climate change, while 49 percent don’t think Norway should let its offshore oil and gas resources remain lying under the sea.
The survey results, conducted by research firm Sentio for newspaper Klassekampen, come as disappointing news for climate and environmental activists. Tens of thousands of Norwegian school children have also been regularly conducting “climate strikes” during the past year, gathering outdoors instead of in their classrooms to literally scream in unison against the oil industry. They’re also angry with political leaders who allow oil and gas production to keep expanding even as Norway repeatedly fails to meet its carbon emission reduction goals.
They’ve been riding the wave criticism and demonstrations against the industry that made Norway one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Now they’re confronted with survey results showing that fully 58 percent of those aged 18-22 are among those who favour more oil exploration.
The Greens Party, which has been at the forefront of calls to curtail oil exploration and production, was quick to see the glass as half-full instead of half-empty.
Blaming the oil lobby
“I want to stress first and foremost that nearly a third of the Norwegian population wants to phase out oil,” Ask Ibsen Lindal, energy policy spokesperson for the Greens Party (Miljøpartiet de Grønne, MDG), told Klassekampen on Monday after reviewing the survey’s conclusions. “Since Norway is an oil nation, that’s very good.”
Lindal went on to attribute the high percentage of young adult Norwegians who don’t want to halt exploration to Norway’s powerful oil lobby. “I think the high number (58 percent) can to a large degree be blamed on the ice-cold propaganda from the oil and gas lobby,” he told Klassekampen. “I point especially to (state oil company) Equinor’s advertising (which recently sparked controversy) and (industry organization) Norsk olje og gass‘ campaign that targets the young. They’re using ridiculously large resources on these campaigns, and I think it’s amazing that not more people react against them.” The pro-oil lobby points mainly to all the jobs created by the oil- and oil service industries, and the economic ripple effects they have.
Lindal also stressed that not even the Greens think Norway should “stop producing oil tomorrow,” but he claims (along with a UN representative) that Norway “must phase out oil and phase in renewable energy in order for Norway to be able to meet the UN’s climate goals.”
Tommy Hansen, communications and business policy director at Norsk olje og gass, was predictably satisfied with the new survey’s results. “These are nice numbers, but I don’t think we can take all the credit for them alone,” Hansen told Klassekampen. “Young people are most concerned with facts, and understand that both sides in this issue have an agenda. Our goal isn’t for the whole world to be friends of oil, but we must contribute to a debate based on knowledge. We have increased our marketing campaigns during the past six months to contribute to a broader discussion, but it’s not directly aimed at the young.”
The new survey indicated that Trøndelag is the only county in Norway where more people oppose ongoing oil exploration than support it (40- versus 31 percent respectively). That’s a paradox since both the Labour and Center parties are strong in Trøndelag and both have traditionally supported the oil and gas industry. Labour cooperates with the Greens in Oslo, however, and Lindal, who’s from Trøndelag himself, wasn’t surprised by the Trøndelag numbers. He noted that most of Trøndelag’s other major industries aren’t directly tied to oil and that the Trondheim-based Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has a strong community of students where the “focus on oil and gas is not strong.”
The counties most favouring ongoing oil and gas exploration were Finnmark in the far north (which is especially interested in job creation and retaining residents), Sogn og Fjordane on the west coast and, interestingly, the inland county of Hedmark that’s least likely to benefit from offshore jobs. More than 60 percent of Norwegians questioned there support oil industry expansion.
Klassekampen also noted that the portion of those favouring more oil exploration has sunk by 10 percent since a similiar survey conducted in January 2018. The new survey also indicates a higher level of uncertainty surrounding the entire issue of oil exploration and production in Norway: 23 percent now say they’re not sure what’s the right thing to do regarding the future of the country’s oil and gas industry that fuels the entire Norwegian economy. In Østfold County alone, fully 30 percent described themselves as uncertain.
“The fact that fewer are firmly in favour of more oil and gas exploration can be tied to changing attitudes and that there are more serious debates now about an oil phase-out,” Lindal said.
Calls continue to go out for a restructuring of the oil industry and the entire Norwegian economy, to make it less reliant on oil and gas. Little real progress has been made, however, in finding an alternative to oil that could provide just as much money for the economy.
As the oil industry celebrated its first 50 years this past autumn, tied to the first indications of oil on the Ekofisk field in 1969, the government faces a tough internal debate this spring over how far north into the Arctic oil companies should be allowed to drill. Its outcome may seal the fate of the Liberal Party, which is battling to keep oil activity as far south of the Arctic ice edge as possible to protect sensitive Arctic areas. The Liberals are part of the mostly pro-oil government coalition, which is struggling in public opinion polls and may be ousted in 2021 by a greener left-center coalition,