Another Norwegian government ministry had to summon cleaning crews on Thursday, after being attacked by climate activists unhappy with government oil policy. Now oil advocates are speaking up, and urging the industry to “be more proud of the job they’re doing.”
Conflict levels are rising between those firmly opposed to Norway’s oil and gas industry and those supporting it. The latter group includes a majority of top politicians and industry advocates, who are now urging oil and offshore companies to stop “greenwashing” their business amidst rising calls for emission cuts.
On Thursday it was Norway’s own Climate and Environment Ministry in downtown Oslo that was the target of increasingly radical demonstrators demanding an immediate halt to more oil exploration. An earlier attack on the Oil & Energy Ministry this week resulted in police charges against those tagging the ministry offices.
Meanwhile, in Norway’s oil capital of Stavanger, oil industry officials gathered for an annual conference hosted by the state Petroleum Safety Authority, Petroleumtilsynet. The authority itself is soon due to drop “petroleum” from its name, and re-emerge as the “Norwegian Ocean Industry Authority” (Havindustritilsynet, in Norwegian) while Norway’s Petroleum Directorate is dropping “petroleum” from its name, too. It’s due to become the “Norwegian Offshore Directorate,” from January 1st.
Government officials are thus distancing themselves from petroleum and oil, and emphasizing their efforts to diversify and develop Norway’s Continental Shelf (external link to the officials’ own explanation). They want to stress that the shelf is also the site of planned offshore wind projects, potential transport and storage of carbon emissions and, controversially, potential seabed mining.
Others claim it’s an effort to downplay Norway’s also controversial ongoing oil exploration and production. Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported how some of those attending the authorities’ conference in Stavanger urged industry officials to instead display pride in their business, and communicate more honestly.
Among them was Liv Monica Stubholt, a former state secretary in both the foreign ministry and the Oil & Energy Ministry who went on to hold top jobs in the oil and energy business. Now she’s a partner at the large Norwegian law firm Selmer.
“We must stand proudly in Norway regarding what we’re doing,” Stubholt said from the podium. She thinks too many oil companies would now rather talk about their efforts in the renewable sector, even though they’re of much less economic importance. She called for a “rebalancing” and more “positive” communication about oil and gas operations, to prevent the oil business from ending up like smoking has, something that’s “not forbidden, but not so good.” She claimed the oil business is “neither poisonous nor damaging for society,” adding that “we will need public acceptance for the oil and gas business for a long time.”
Ståle Kyllingstad, head of IKM Gruppen and long an advocate of the oil business, fully agreed. “Liv Monica Stubholt is absolutely correct,” he told DN. “Politicians and the business must stand behind what’s made Norway extremely wealthy. The big state companies that earn lots of money on hydrocarbons must stand by that.”
Kristin Kragseth of Petoro, in charge of the state’s direct ownership in oil fields, also criticized greenwashing and said she’s “very proud of the oil and gas industry” after 31 years in the business. She admitted to some concern a few years ago, “when climate was what everyone was talking about … but the conclusion was that we don’t have anything to replace fossil energy today. I wish we did, but we don’t.”
After years of searching for “the new oil,” it simply hasn’t been found, leaving Norway’s oil companies as the country’s largest source of wealth and jobs. Aker BP chief Karl Johnny Hersvik claimed the company he leads has never tried to hide that it’s a pure oil and gas firm, and proud of it. “We don’t have any renewable energy projects to communicate,” he told DN. adding that Aker BP was “open and transparent” about its fossil operations.
State oil company Equinor (which itself changed its name from Statoil) has been among those trying to stress its alternative energy projects, but the vast majority of its revenues still comes from oil and gas. Equinor, often accused of greenwashing itself, has also been accused of being reluctant to invest more money in alternative energy projects, because of their lack of profit potential.
Kjetil Hove, in charge of Norwegian continental shelf operations for Equinor, said he thinks the company is clear in its communications and its “energy transition plan.”