It’s been a terrible start to the New Year for anyone worried about the climate and environment in Norway, both at home and abroad. A series of controversial decisions to move forward with deep-sea mining, allow dumping of mine tailings in the fjords and further expand Norway’s offshore oil and gas industry have left climate activists reeling, and sparked rebukes at the EU in Brussels.
“I’m not sure the government has understood how negatively this is being viewed internationally,” Sveinung Rotevatn of Norway’s Liberal Party told news bureau NTB this week. His comments came after EU commissioners in Brussels expressed “deep concern” this week over how a majority in the Norwegian Parliament have voted to “open up” for highly controversial deep-sea mining on its continental shelf.
Norway thus becomes the first country in the world to allow commercial mining operations on the sea floor, claiming that “the world needs minerals in the transition to a low-emission society.” Energy Minister Terje Aasland claimed this week that “geopolitical developments underscore the importance of securing supplies of important minerals and metals from several sources, and that they come from countries with stable and democratic systems.” Aasland (who’s been ridiculed for dropping the word “Oil” from both his and his ministry’s title in a move criticized as more “greenwashing” by the government) has tried to assure critics that Norway will conduct its exploration and eventual extraction of such minerals “in a responsible and sustainable manner.”
Critics around the world aren’t buying that. Norway has already been blasted for even considering deep-sea mining in its sensitive offshore Arctic areas. “Scraping the sea(floor) and destroying ecosystems vital to our planet is anything but green, no matter what you are using the minerals for,” scoffed Climate Action Network (CAN) International when naming Norway as runner-up for its dubious “Fossil of the Day Award” (external link) during the UN climate summit in Dubai last month. CAN, a global network of more than 2,000 non-governmental organizations in more than 150 countries, noted that Norway’s rationale “has been debunked by leading scientists (external link) and is both misleading and blatant greenwashing.” The network further branded Norway as “irresponsible” and claimed that the deep-sea mining industry in Norway has teamed with the country’s fossil fuel industry, “both of which have heavily lobbied the Norwegian government.”
The EU Commission’s position on the issue is also “very clear,” claimed EU Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski this week: The EU thinks deep-sea mining should be forbidden until its environmental consequences have been sufficiently evaluated. He noted this week that there’s still very little knowledge of its consequences, but that deep-sea mining can damage both undersea ecosystems and fishing resources, the basis for Norway’s also-important seafood industry. Even though Norway has a sovereign right to use its own continental shelf, the EU’s Wojciechowski stressed that the seas targeted for Norway’s deep-sea mining are subject to UN regulation.
“How can this be possible?” fumed Johan Nissinen, a member of the EU Parliament who, like several others, was highly criticial of Norway’s plans. “We have asked for a moratorium on this.” Yet another, Anja Hazekamp, noted how “Norway has for years presented itself as a global environmental champion,” but now has become destructive. She called Norway’s deep-sea mining plans “a time bomb for the marine milieu.”
Norwegian environmental and climate activists are even more upset, and welcomed the EU’s harsh messages to the Norwegian government. “This is good news,” said Lars Haltbrekken, a Member of Parliament for the Socialist Left Party (SV) and former leader of Norway’s chapter of the international organization Friends of the Earth. “The EU’s warnings against mining on the ocean floor show how strong the opposition is.”
Karoline Andaur of WWF told NTB that it’s “a shame Norway will be known as the nation that’s destroying unique nature in a speculative hunt for profits in the name of the climate.” She stresses how negative reaction has been on an international basis, claiming the EU won’t buy the minerals extracted. Nor, reportedly, will companies including Google, BMW and Volvo.
The Norwegian government continues to claim that deep-sea minerals are needed (external link) for batteries and technology that would make Western countries less dependent on the few countries where they’re now found, including China. Aasland stated that “opening up” for deep-sea mining doesn’t mean extraction will start up, and is just “the first step on the way forward.” He stresses Norway’s “solid experience” from its “leading and secure offshore operations, which give us good prospects for succeeding with this.” He also vowed that any deep-sea mining would be carried out “in line with international obligations” including international conventions regarding maritime activity and protection of biological diversity.
As debate flew over the deep-sea mining issue, environmentalists in Norway have also been protesting this week’s distribution of 62 new licenses for more offshore oil and gas projects on the Norwegian continental shelf. Now, reports newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), companies involved in new projects in the Barents Sea are also hoping for new pipelines from the Arctic within the next few years.
Meanwhile, Norwegian environmental and climate activists were also defeated by a court ruling right after New Year that gives companies mining on land the right to dump their tailings into the fjord, in this case the Førdefjord. Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund) and its youthful ally Natur og Ungdom had sued to stop company Nordic Mining from polluting the fjord, part of long-running battles over mining operations in Norway.
“Minerals are fundamental for production of everything from the defense industry to electronic items we use every day,” Bård Ludvig Thorheim of the Conservative Party told newspaper Klassekampen. Solar energy panels and electric cars, both important means of cutting fossil emissions, need minerals, with Thorheim calling it “a great paradox” that the environmental movement is often against mining.
“We don’t say ‘no’ to mining operations on land,” countered Truls Gulowsen, leader of Naturvernforbundet, “we say ‘no’ to bad mining operations on land.” It’s a messy business, with disposal issues high on the list. Now the courts will allow dumping and Nordic Mining plans to start its extraction operations at Engebøfjellet this fall.
There was, at least, some good news for the environmental movement this week when Greenpeace Norge and Natur og Ungdom won their case against the state over controversial licensing of three new offshore oil fields. The Oslo County Court ruled in their favour that licenses for the Breidablikk, Tyrving and Yggdrasil fields were invalid because the state failed to carry out the equivalent of climate impact statements for the fields and their oil production.
The Breidablikk field operated by Norway’s state oil company Equinor is expected to produce around 200 million barrels of oil, while Tyrving may produce 25 million and Yggdrasil as much as 650 million. Production is already underway at Breidablikk but Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom claimed the state’s evaluations of the fields’ global climate consequences were either deficient or didn’t even exist.
The court agreed “and we are incredibly glad and relieved,” Pleym told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. The state can appeal, with officials in the Energy Ministry quickly claiming production would continue. Pleym said he expects the state to instead carry out the court’s instructions, which also included paying the legal costs of the two organizations. They amounted to NOK 3.2 million and that, at least, would help offset the costs of their losses on the Førdefjorden mining case which, according to Aftenposten, forced them to pay for a first-class airline ticket for one of those testifying. It alone cost around NOK 122,000 (USD 12,000).