Norway wants other countries to leave their coal and oil in the ground to meet new global climate change targets, but its industry is planning to increase production of its own fossil fuels.
“We know that if we burn all the coal, oil and gas available, the Paris agreement cannot be fulfilled. Significant parts of the total fossil resources must remain, untouched,” said Karl Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen, director of the Norwegian oil and gas association and a former minister of finance.
Schjøtt-Pedersen argued that by exploiting its own fossil fuels Norway would help other countries, like Germany and Britain, to emit less because Norwegian gas was cleaner than coal.
“If Europe were to replace coal with Norwegian natural gas, this would result in a 50% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions for every unit of energy produced. We produce gas with low emissions, which can replace coal with high emissions,” he told a meeting this week of politicians, scientists and business people from Arctic nations in Tromsø, Norway.
Despite the Paris agreement to cut global emissions and oil prices falling to under $30 a barrel, Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer intends to expand production in some of the riskiest and most environmentally sensitive areas.
Earlier this month it issued 56 new licenses to allow 36 companies to explore near the picturesque Lofoten islands, which are home to some of the world’s richest cod stocks, as well as in the North and Barents seas.
National oil company Statoil also plans to spend $6 billion developing the Castberg field. This Arctic stretch of ocean north of Norway is estimated to hold up to 650 million barrels of oil equivalent.
According to the Norwegian prime minister, Erna Solberg, the current low oil prices will stimulate the global economy and the demand for Norway’s oil. “The oil and gas industry has been through major slumps before, but has kept growing. Although bad for Norway, low oil prices stimulate the global economy and the demand for oil,” she told the conference.
She said Norway had no option but to exploit its oil. “Norway’s oceans cover a vast area. The seabed contains large resources of oil and gas. Our oceans provide vast opportunities for harvesting their bounty. Therefore, it is vital that we make every effort to ensure that the oceans are clean and productive,” she said.
Environmentalists said the prosperous country, with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world, was acting as if Paris and the recent slump in oil prices had never happened.
“The government is hypocritical and in denial over Paris. It does not think it is any brake on oil. They say our oil is cleaner and that the EU needs us. Meanwhile it is lobbying in Europe against stronger energy efficiency laws. There seem to be no limits on the Norwegian oil industry. They want to keep on expanding,” said Silje Lundberg, of Friends of the Earth Norway.
Norway intends to reduce emissions by 30% by 2020 and 40% by 2030. However, it is one of very few wealthy countries to have increased emissions since 1990. State statistics bureau SSB has stated that Norway’s oil industry accounted for 27% of all carbon emissions in Norway in 2013. Annual emissions from oil and gas production have increased by 91% since 1990.
The Norwegian oil and gas industry has been sharply hit by falling oil prices with many companies laying off staff and projects being mothballed.