Wed, Apr 17, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Young Norwegians call time on oil industry

Even with gas and oil to provide about 17 percent of Norway’s GDP this year, young people are driving change as they see a shift in the energy industry and the threat of climate change on the horizon

By Nerijus Adomaitis  /  Reuters, OSLO

Illustration: Mountain People

When Norway’s largest political party decided that the Lofoten Islands in the north should not be opened up to oil exploration, a chill ran down the spine of the energy industry.

The decision by the opposition Labor Party on April 6 effectively ended any chance of drilling in the foreseeable future in an area of natural beauty that energy executives say is important to the future of the nation’s oil production.

It was a stark example of how priorities are changing in a country that has become one of the world’s richest on the back of oil.

In particular, young people concerned about climate change are pushing for curbs on exploration, with many thinking the unthinkable: shutting down the oil industry altogether.

“Climate comes before cash,” Simon Sand, 16, said while demonstrating in front of the Norwegian Parliament during a climate protest inspired by Swedish teenage activist Gretha Thunberg.

While some might dismiss such protests as youthful rebellion, young people are undeniably driving change.

The decision by Labor, a traditional ally of the oil industry, to withdraw its support for Lofoten drilling was largely down to an internal campaign by its Workers’ Youth League (AUF).

“In this area, nature has to come first,” AUF leader Ina Libak, 29, said. “Because it’s so vulnerable, and because of fisheries and other kinds of industries.”

Indeed, the youth wings of seven out of the nine parliamentary parties in Norway call to either restrict or to completely phase out petroleum activities, according to a Reuters review of the programs of the organizations.

The youth wing of the ruling Conservative Party does not call for restrictions, but says it assumes “market and environment-based” downsizing of the industry.

Labor’s AUF wants to phase it out altogether by 2035.

Labor’s Lofoten move, which created a parliamentary majority against drilling, caused consternation in the oil and gas industry.

The area is estimated to contain 5 percent of total undiscovered resources on the Norwegian continental shelf and, furthermore, executives fear that the green lobby will soon move on to their next target, such as exploration in the Arctic.

Unions highlighted the economic risks of winding down the oil and gas sector — it employs 170,000 people and is the nation’s top moneymaker, projected by the government to produce 17 percent of GDP this year.

“Every responsible government, on the left or on the right, will need to balance the budget and they will have to rely on revenues from oil and gas,” said Frode Alfheim, leader of the top trade union for oil workers, Industri Energi.

“Those revenues are not possible to replace from other sources. Much of the welfare state comes from this industry,” he added.

Another sign of the hardening opposition toward fossil fuels and its impact on the energy industry is a lack of qualified recruits to replace a rapidly aging oil and gas workforce.

State oil giant Equinor, the top oil producer in Norway by far, expects about half of its 21,000 workforce to retire in the next decade.

The number of applications for the petroleum geosciences and engineering program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, the nation’s leading program, fell to 33 last year from 420 in 2013 — although the 2014 to 2016 downturn in crude prices could also have been a big driver.

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