New Norwegian oil minister open to Arctic drilling

March 4, 2011 | 08:07
Reuters Original article here
Norway replaced its oil and energy minister on Friday, appointing a rising politician who is more open than his predecessor to the prospect of drilling in a pristine Arctic archipelago.

Terje Riis-Johansen, who personally opposed drilling in the Lofoten region, resigned after months of criticism of his handling of a costly and delayed carbon capture facility and a plan to build power cable across a scenic fjord.

He was replaced by fellow Centre Party politician Ola Borten Moe, a 34-year-old farmer who is the grandson of former Prime Minister Per Borten and a rising star in Norwegian politics.

The oil industry has said that only by allowing drilling off the Lofoten Islands, a region rich in fish and unique cold-water reefs, can Norway prolong its oil boom as output from North Sea oilfields dwindles.

“Under certain circumstances I would not exclude the opportunity (of drilling in Lofoten),” Moe told Reuters after being presented to the King as the new oil minister.

Norway is the world’s No. 5 oil exporter and No. 2 gas exporter, although its oil output, now about 2 million barrels per day, has dropped by a third since peaking in 2001.

Moe said his position was consistent with the Centre Party view that no formal impact assessment of drilling off the Lofotens should be allowed during this parliamentary term, which ends in 2013.

The Labour-led coalition government is discussing whether to carry out such a study, largely seen as a stepping stone to opening the region for oil exploration.

Moe has said previously three conditions would need to be met for him to support drilling: Norwegian oil firm Statoil would need to show greater efforts on safety and the environment; oil spill preparedness must be improved; and jobs would have to be created in northern Norway region.

Moe told Reuters he was in favour of building gas power plants in Norway, a controversial topic in a Nordic country whose electricity is generated by hydroelectric power, although their emissions should be captured by carbon capture and storage.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said his government’s energy policy would remain largely unaffected by the minister. “(Moe) stands on the same political foundation as the whole government,” Stoltenberg told Reuters.

“Everyone who is interpreting things should take it easy.”

Aside from environmental controversies, Riis-Johansen has taken heat over revelations that his ministry awarded power generation concessions to two publicly-owned companies that made illegal donations to his agrarian-backed Centre Party.