Norway picks wind power skeptic as oil minister amid Arctic drilling debate

"The oil and gas industry is not a problem. It is part of the solution to make the world greener," Sylvi Listhaug said Wednesday as she took office.

By Nerijus Adomaitis, Reuters, Gwladys Fouche, Reuters - December 18, 2019

OSLO — Norway made an outspoken right-wing lawmaker who once called wind turbines “white monsters” its oil and energy minister on Wednesday, as the government debates updating rules for petroleum industry activity in its Arctic waters.

As head of the oil and energy ministry, Sylvi Listhaug will be in charge of managing Norway’s majority stake in oil firm Equinor, granting licenses to wind farms and deciding where oil companies can drill.

Norway’s ruling four-party coalition faces a fierce debate over how far north drilling should be allowed. The Liberals, who control the environment ministry, want to restrict drilling, something which Listhaug’s right wing Progress Party opposes.

The government must approve new rules before calling another round of exploration license awards in these frontier areas before an election in 2021.

A general view of the oil refinery in Mongstad, Norway April 1, 2018. (Gwladys Fouche / Reuters File Photo)

“The oil and gas industry is not a problem. It is part of the solution to make the world greener,” Listhaug told reporters on her arrival at the oil and energy ministry.

“It helps finance our generous welfare system,” she said, adding that working to promote the oil industry was “a dream come true.”

‘White monsters’

Norway is undergoing a boom in the construction of wind farms, but faces opposition from local residents.

Listhaug told private broadcaster TV2 in August that Norway, which produces nearly all its electricity from hydropower dams, did not need either onshore or offshore wind power, calling wind turbines “white monsters.”

“We should not have wind turbines everywhere in the country. We need to take care of our beautiful nature,” Listhaug said on Wednesday.

Listhaug resigned as justice minister in 2018 after posting comments online accusing the opposition Labour Party, which was the target of Norway’s worst peacetime massacre in 2011, of putting the rights of terrorists before national security.

She proposed a bill that would give authorities the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals suspected of terrorism or of being foreign fighters of their Norwegian citizenship. Labour wanted the courts to rule on such decisions.

Popular among supporters in her party, Listhaug made a cabinet comeback this year and is seen as a potential future leader of the Progress Party.

Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik.