New oil minister attracts attention

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Norway’s controversial oil industry now has another new government minister to deal with, just a month after the last one had been appointed. Tina Bru, a 33-year-old rising star in the Conservative Party, has a greener profile than her predecessor but was nonetheless getting a warm welcome from the petroleum business.

Tina Bru accepted the key to the Oil & Energy Minister’s office on Friday from Sylvi Listhaug, after Listhaug’s party formally left the government. PHOTO: OED/Margrete Løbben Hanssen

“This is extremely positive,” oil entrepreneur and investor Ståle Kyllingstad told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after Bru’s appointment on Friday. “She’s been following the oil industry for many years.” He said she’s also known for “seeing both problems and solutions” regarding climate issues, and that’s an advantage as debate around the oil industry and its environmental impact flies.

“We need authorities on the team,” Kyllingstad said, noting that more than 200,000 jobs in Norway are tied to oil and gas. “I hope and think that she sees the problems, and will set the stage for the changes we must make.”

Bru also was winning accolades from labour unions representing oil workers. “This is good for the business,” Bjørn Asle Teige of the labour organization SAFE told NRK. SAFE has lots of members working for state oil company Equinor, and Teige things Bru has “good instincts in the energy market and thinks about the climate challenges.”

‘Future-oriented’ needs
Environmental organizations and climate activists were also hopeful, and cautiously optimistic, since Bru will also be paying more attention to alternative energy. While she dropped membership in the Norwegian church after some of its bishops opposed drilling for more oil and gas out of consideration for the climate, she has also stated that the oil business needs to be more “future-oriented” and cut more emissions.

Both the new but minority three-party government coalition in which she’ll serve and the Parliament itself are under increasing pressure to cut Norway’s emissions while also maintaining the welfare that oil and gas have provided over the years. Bru is also viewed as far less confrontational and more fact-oriented than her immediate predecessor, Sylvi Listhaug of the Progress Party, who was seen as heavily pro-oil and, earlier, skeptical of climate change.

Bru was welcomed by ministry staff, and by the oil industry and at least some climate activists, who hope she’ll be able to balance the interests of both. PHOTO: OED/Margrete Løbben Hanssen

“We expect that the new minister will base her decisions on updated knowledge, so that the most valuable areas of the Barents Sea will be protected,” said Silje Ask Lundgerg, leader of Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbundet). “That means listening to professional advice and protecting the entire ice-edge zone from oil activity.”

One of the biggest debates looming this spring is where the actual Arctic ice edge should lie, and how far away from it oil exploration and production can be allowed. Listhaug wanted it to be flexible, so that as Arctic ice melts, oil companies could drill farther and farther north. Opponents and climate activists want the ice edge to be set as far south as possible, to keep oil activity out of Norway’s sensitive Arctic areas.

Lundberg also wants the new oil and energy minister to promote energy savings and more efficiency within the electricity branch, both within Norwegian business and in Norwegian homes. The leader of the Greens Party, meanwhile, has already called for a greener government profile overall, with Bru playing a big part in it.

‘Dream job’
Bru herself has been a member of city government in Stavanger and, as a Member of Parliament, part of its Energy and Environment Committee for the past six years. She’s a “non-socialist feminist” who’s been part of a trio making podcasts called Stortingsrestauranten (The Parliament’s Restaurant). She’s remembered, according to NRK, for opposing an older Stavanger city council member and Labour veteran who wanted to ban tweeting during city council meetings.

She called her new post “a dream job” and said she was looking forward to get to work as Oil & Energy Miister. “After sitting in the Energy and Environment Committe for six years it will be exciting to lead the ministry that manages our fellow energy resources,” she said. “The petroleum business is Norway’s most important, and I live in a county (Rogaland) that employs several thousand people in the industry.”

She quickly added that she also looks forward to work with renewable energy, “which will come to play an important role in the transition to a low-emission society.”

Bru has a bachelor’s degree in change management from the Norwegian Business School BI in Stavanger, held several posts in the Conservatives’ youth organization Unge Høyre and began winning elected office in 2007. She was elected to Parliament in 2013.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund