Despite a looming climate lawsuit, Norway offers oil companies a fresh set of blocks

If approved, some of these blocks in the Barents Sea would be among the northernmost offshore oil drilling sites in the world. 

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - November 19, 2020
Norway’s flag flies in the waters of the Lofoten archipelago. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

As the Norwegian government awaits the Supreme Court’s verdict in a historic climate lawsuit that challenges Arctic drilling, it has announced another 136 oil blocks in northern waters.

The record number of new oil blocks in the Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea is part of the country’s 25th License Round. Companies are now invited to place bids for their desired blocks.

About half of the suggested blocks are in the northern part of the Barents Sea at between 73 degrees North and 74 degrees North and will, if approved, be some of the northernmost offshore oil drilling sites in the world.

In a comment, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru underlines that “new discoveries are necessary to ensure continued activity, ripple effects, employment and governmental revenues across the country.”

“Around 200,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the petroleum sector in Norway,” she explains.

But for environmentalists, the announcement of the new license round is seen as a highly provocative step. According to Greenpeace Norway, the announcement from government is “reckless and a mockery of future generations.”

“This is a shameful day to be Norwegian. With this announcement, Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s government has no right to claim to be a green pioneering country. The oil has gone straight to the government’s head,” says Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway.

The decision stands in stark conflict with the recently completed climate lawsuit against the Norwegian state, the environmental organization said.

“We have recently completed a climate lawsuit in the Supreme Court and The parliament’s Committee on Scrutiny and Constitutional Affairs is still awaiting answers to several questions it has asked the government regarding oil production in the north of Norway. The fact that the government prioritises the announcement of 136 new drilling blocks in this situation, is baffling,” Pleym said in an email comment.

Also Nature and Youth is reacting strongly to the announced new oil blocks. The organization now warns oil companies to take part in the license round.

“This is a chance for the oil companies that call themselves responsible. If Equinor is serious about being a company oriented towards the future, it must abstain from applying for the blocks that clearly contradicts environmental recommendations,” says organization leader Therese Hugstmyr Woie.