Photographer: Kristian Helgesen/Bloomberg

A Clash Over Oil Is Brewing as Norway Starts Coalition Talks

  • Liberals and Progress Party present competing oil visions
  • Norway parties prepare for talks after Monday election

The fault lines are already widening as the center-right winners of Norway’s election prepare for talks on forming a coalition to govern western Europe’s biggest oil exporter over the next four years.

The four parties now set for talks will in particular need to bridge a deep divide between the pro-drilling Progress Party and the Liberals, which want Norway to eventually get out of the oil business. Key lawmakers for both those parties have wasted no time in staking their positions.  

Petroleum Minister Terje Soviknes, a member of the Progress Party, on Wednesday suggested that going it more alone this time with just the Conservatives could be the way for opening a study of exploration off the majestic Lofoten islands. His group and the Conservatives ruled in a formal arrangement with the Liberals and Christian Democrats in support over the past four years and could without such an accord reach across the aisle to get a deal done with Labor.

Read more on Norway’s election and oil here

“There’s a possibility that if there’s no cooperation agreement that ties up a minority government, then we can seek support where we wish,” Soviknes said in an interview at a conference in Oslo Wednesday. 

He also on Wednesday lobbied for further exploration and production in the far north, also deeply unpopular with his potential partners.  

“Russian players are pushing farther north, and we need knowledge about our resource base on the Norwegian side,” he said. “An opening process would be the best for that, but it’s not something the government has taken a position on.”

On the other side of the debate, the Liberals are gearing up to try to rewrite Norway’s tax code, which gives generous subsidies for offshore exploration. The Liberals are now actively seeking to become part of the government.

“Our oil policy is very simple, we shall not enter vulnerable areas, such as Lofoten and Vesteralen, and we need to redefine the ice-edge and the polar front,” said Ola Elvestuen, deputy leader of the Liberal Party.

Part of this will mean looking at the tax system to shift the risks of oil exploration back to the companies from the taxpayer, according to Elvestuen.

He declined to comment on how this could affect the coming talks.

“This is our policy, now we will discuss how we will do it,” he said.

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