Why the lawsuit targeting Norway’s Arctic oil development shouldn’t come as a surprise

By Kevin McGwin, The Arctic Journal - October 20, 2016

On May 4, Norsk Klimastiftelse, a conservancy, released a Norwegian version of a report titled “The Legal Status of Oil and Gas Exploitation in the Arctic: The Case of Norway,” originally published in January 2015.

In the report, the authors argue that the country’s plans to expand oil and gas drilling in the Barents Sea would violate a provision of its constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to a clean environment.

The argument should sound familiar: Earlier this week in Oslo, two conservation groups filed suit against the Norwegian state on precisely the same grounds. Among their arguments for taking legal action now are that they believe it means Norway will not be able to live up to its obligations under the Paris climate agreement ratified by Oslo on June 21, if it continues to expand its drilling activities.

[Environmental groups file groundbreaking lawsuit against Norway over Arctic oil drilling]

The groups, Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom, are also concerned that not enough has been done to study the effects of drilling on the region.

Both groups, as it happens, are among the founders of Foreningen Grunnloven §112, a group founded on September 30, 2105, and which takes its name from the article of the Norwegian constitution to which the report and the lawsuit refer.

If the name does not telegraph the association’s aims, then the description of its purpose leaves no doubt: “Our aim is to be a hub for action and information related to the constitution’s environmental article, as well as a knowledge base for any legal action in cases where the article is violated.”

Though it would appear the group has been waiting for the proper opportunity to bring a major suit challenging Barents drilling, it has not hidden the fact that one was on the way: On January 18, for example, Beregens Tidende, a news outlet, ran an interview with Pål W Lorentzen, an attorney, that lays out some of the preparations he and others were making for “the lawsuit of the century.”

“Under Article 112 of the constitution, our elected lawmakers have a legal obligation to pass legislation that does not wreck the planet for the next generation. We are working to find out what limitations Article 112 places on our lawmakers ability to decide on things like oil exploration,” he said at the time.

Lorentzen’s account came after he, together with a group of opponents of expanded Barents drilling, published an op-ed in Dagbladet, a news outlet, on Oct. 13 of last year, in which they put forward the same argument.

“According to the Norwegian constitution’s Article 112, the state has an obligation to take measures to guarantee citizens’ rights to a secure climate, including for our descendants,” the op-ed, which was also run in English on various websites, stated.

Among Lorentzen’s co-authors was Truls Gulowsen, the managing director of Greenpeace Norway, who represented the organisation when the lawsuit was announced this week.

All of these connections were in plain sight. Yet, even if they had remained hidden, Oslo still should have had an inkling that a paperwork protest against its latest licensing round was a possibility. In 2014, for example, Greenpeace used an administrative action, filed with Norway’s environmental authorities, to get Statoil’s permit to drill an exploration well in the Barents momentarily revoked.

It was only after the challenge ultimately failed that Greenpeace resorted to more recognisable methods: 15 protesters intercepted the drilling rig before it could be moved into place, temporarily preventing Statoil from commencing operations.

That, at least, is something authorities in Oslo will be unlikely to overlook.