Greens lose lawsuit in Norway over Arctic oil licenses

In the case brought against the Norwegian Government by Greenpeace Norway for granting new oil licenses to drill in the Arctic Barents Sea, the Oslo District Court has ruled in favor of the government. 

The court reached its decision on Thursday afternoon, Norwegian time. The lawsuit, filed by Greenpeace and the Norwegian environmental group Nature & Youth in October 2016, had named the Norwegian state-owned oil company Statoil as the central defendant in the case.

The lawsuit had argued that the new oil licenses awarded in 2016 as part of the country’s 23rd licensing round violated both the Paris Climate Agreement and paragraph 112 of the Norwegian Constitution, which commits the government “to safeguard the people’s right to a clean and healthy environment for future generations.”

The legal action was part of a widespread Greenpeace campaign against Statoil’s oil exploration in the Arctic and in New Zealand waters.

According to the Norwegian government, the court has found in its verdict that the government’s decision to award production licences in the 23rd licensing round is valid. The court has thus accepted the government’s argument that decision to award licenses to search for petroleum in the Barents Sea, is not a violation of section 112 of the Norwegian Constitution as claimed by the environmentalists.

The court held that section 112 is a provision that establishes a right for everyone, and an obligation for the authorities to implement measures to safeguard the environment. In this instance, the authorities had implemented sufficient measures to safeguard the environment. Thus, there was no violation of section 112, the government said.

Further, the court agrees with the government that the process up until the award of the production licenses in 2016 was lawful. The thorough process ensured that different scientific, technical as well as political views were discussed. The government thus had a sound basis for its decision to award the production licenses, it emphasized.

In a nutshell, the court found the Norwegian government not responsible for breaching the Constitution.

In reaction to the judgment, the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen, said: “While it’s good news that the judgment acknowledges the Environmental Article in the Norwegian Constitution, it’s very disappointing that it neglects Norway’s responsibility for damaging the planet’s climate.”

“We are disagreeing with the judgment, as it ignores the Paris agreement and a warming planet demanding action against climate change.”

Now that the judgement has been published, the appeal deadline is four weeks and the environmentalist organizations are considering their next move.

New Zealand

Over in New Zealand, international oil companies such as Statoil, OMV, Anadarko and Petrobras have faced years of protest by Greenpeace, iwi and local communities as they attempted to find oil here.

Greenpeace New Zealand campaigner, Amanda Larsson was disappointed but undeterred by the Norwegian court judgment, saying: “This decision doesn’t change the fact that, if we’re to have a future, the oil industry must have no future.”

Larsson said the judgment will only strengthen an already-strong and growing people-powered resistance to fossil fuels.

She added: “Here in New Zealand, our biggest councils have opposed new oil. Iwi up and down the country have said no to it. Hundreds of thousands of people have marched, signed petitions, and lobbied their local representatives to try and stop it.”

“Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern couldn’t have a clearer mandate to end the search for new oil and gas,” she says.

Greenpeace claimed that a new petition to the Prime Minister has gained over 28,000 signatures.

The petition was launched as the world’s largest seismic surveying ship, the Amazon Warrior returned to New Zealand to search for oil off the Taranaki Coast. According to the organization, the vessel is currently in New Zealand on behalf of OMV, an Austrian oil company that, like Statoil, has drilling operations in the Arctic.

The Amazon Warrior has been met with significant protest both locally and in Wellington. Recently, a national gathering of Māori leaders came to an historic agreement to oppose all seismic testing and oil exploration in the waters of Aotearoa. The Iwi Chairs Forum passed the resolution to seek amendments to the EEZ Act to give effect to this opposition.

Last year, New Zealand actor Lucy Lawless traveled to the Arctic to confront Statoil on board the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, to protest against Statoil’s exploration activities in the Arctic Barents Sea, offshore Norway.