Majority supports aid to oil industry

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A new survey shows that not only a majority of politicians support controversial tax relief and financial aid to Norway’s oil and offshore industry. Fully 60 percent of Norwegians questioned do as well, even as a similar number want the state to provide more support for climate measures.

Equinor’s huge new Johan Sverdrup installation, run in partnership with Aker BP, Lundin Norway, Total of France and the state’s Petoro, is among those that can turn a profit on relatively low oil prices. The companies nonethless won controversial tax relief. PHOTO: Equinor

The survey, conducted by research firm Opinion for Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), asked those questioned to respond to whether it was correct for the state to offer special support to the oil industry during the Corona crisis. Six out of 10 responded that yes, they either “firmly-” or “quite” agreed that it was the right thing to do.

Only 15 percent said they were “firmly or quite opposed” to offering crisis aid to oil, which mostly has amounted to considerable tax relief to the industry over the next two years.

Heated debate continues
The aid to the traditionally profitable oil industry has been hotly debated since it was offered by the government and enhanced by the Parliament.  Media commentators have claimed Norway’s powerful oil lobby got what it wanted, winning not only tax relief but also being mostly assured of continuing to be able to drill for more oil and gas in sensitive Arctic areas. The relief was also granted just as Norway’s own state oil company, Equinor, was being shamed for generating huge losses in the US and keeping them under wraps for years.

Kjetil B Alstadheim, political commentator in newspaper Aftenposten, noted that the total value of the crisis package for oil can amount to NOK 39 billion, while others noted that climate projects were said to get just “crumbs” in comparison amounting to less than NOK 4 billion. The crisis aid for oil was sold as a means of restructuring the Norwegian economy and making it more green, by maintaining competence in the offshore industry that can be transferred to other projects like also-controversial wind energy. Alstadheim claimed it will mostly fuel the oil companies and leave the state taking on even more risk for exploration projects that don’t result in oil or gas discoveries.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) had questioned whether the oil industry really needed any tax relief. Oil prices have risen since the depths of the Corona crisis, and companies like Equinor can now turn a profit on many oil fields at the price level is back up at now. “Maybe some members of the Parliament’s finance committee should check what Equinor predicts the oil price will be in 2025, before the company gets billions worth of tax relief,” wrote commentator Terje Erikstad in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) before politicians approved the aid. There reportedly was “intense drama” behind the scenes in Parliament, but the oil companies ended up getting “just what they wanted, and more,” claimed commentator Arne Strand in newspaper Dagsavisen.

Public support for a source of jobs
Proponents of the aid argued that it’s crucial to keep the oil companies active in order to avoid huge job losses in Norway. Those responding to NRK’s survey apparently believed the same, after reports of grave concern in regions where oil, gas and offshore activity fuels most jobs. The leaders of Equinor and Aker BP quickly announced the launch of several new projects including electrification of the Sleipner oil field and more development on the Valhall field in the North Sea. DN called it a PR stunt mostly meant to justify the assistance both had received.

Trond Helleland, who heads the Conservative Party’s delegation in Parliament, claimed he wasn’t surprised by the public’s support for the oil industry’s crisis aid. “I think we have done very well here, both the government and the Parliament,” Helleland told NRK. He played a key role in the oil tax relief negotiations, and Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre agreed with his assessment.

“I think this (the survey) reflects how Norwegians know how important the industry is and know how important it is to their work and family’s income,” Støre told NRK on Wednesday. “We can put demands on it, and have ambitions of cutting emissions and developing technology.”

Oil sparked attack from Thunberg
Kari Kaski of the Socialist Left party (SV) totally disagreed and stresses how 55 percent of Norwegians surveyed also want more support for climate measures. Kaski wanted to put more climate-oriented demands on the oil companies and thus thinks the public supports SV’s position as well.

Norway’s oil industry continues to raise concerns abroad as well, with climate activist Greta Thunberg launching an attack on both Norway and Canada just before both were up for election as new members of the UN Security Council. Thunberg asked island nations threatened by rising seas to carefully consider their vote for countries with oil industries that contribute to climate change. Pauline Tomren of the Greens Party’s youth group told newspaper Aftenposten that Norway and Canada pose a security risk, “because they are oil nations that will continue with that.”

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund