Comment by: Thor Lanesskog
Norway can afford a highly developed welfare model thanks to huge revenues from oil and gas. To maintain social benefits such as free education, hospitals and generous sick pay schemes, Norway is still dependent upon high export earnings.
Environmental groups claim oil drilling represents an environmental hazard and that the industry is not future-oriented. The conflict has been about the protection of one of the main spawning areas for Atlantic cod: Lofoten, and the waters of Vesterålen and Senja.
After the Norwegian parliamentary election 9 September 2013, there is still a large majority of the elected representatives that support drilling in these vulnerable areas. This is justified by arguments like oil & gas drilling has proven to be a “green industry” and is no real danger to the environment, new job creation and the fact that oil and gas provide huge income. The largest political parties, Labour, Conservatives and Progress Party, are all supporting oil exploration in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja.
On the opposite side are the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party, which together with the Socialist Left Party and the Green Party says a definite “no” to drilling.
The Conservatives and the Progress Party, together with the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party, won the general election and have a majority in the Norwegian parliament. Through negotiations the four parties have reached an agreement, stating that the Conservatives and the Progress Party will form the government with the support of the Liberals and Christian Democrats. One of the key compromises is that neither an environmental impact assessment nor any oil exploration shall be carried out in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja during the next four-year period – and no other new marine areas will be opened to oil exploration.
Environmental groups see the agreement as a temporary victory and demands lasting protection. They emphasize that in the future fish will be Norway’s major source of income, and that fish compared to oil is a renewable resource. It is also a fact that a majority of the Norwegian people still want oil drilling in the vulnerable areas.
An important factor that has made it easier for the Conservatives and the Progress Party to compromise is that throughout the last few months, huge discoveries of oil and gas has been made in the Barents Sea, discoveries that for some time will keep the oil industry and the majority of the population happy.
The big question is: What does the future hold for Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja? To drill or not to drill: That is the question. This cannot be answered before we know the 2017 election results. Should Norwegians think long term on behalf of future generations, or prioritize short-term profits from the petroleum industry to be able to maintain an expensive Norwegian welfare model?
Painting by: Rolf Groven