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Norwegian fossil fuel projects denied on climate grounds

Norwegian fossil fuel projects denied on climate grounds

The Breidablikk oil field. Photo credit: Elisabeth Sahl – Jonny Engelsvoll / Equinor.

By Anders Lorenzen

Environmentalists are celebrating after a court ruling has found that three new offshore oil and gas fields granted by the Norwegian government were found invalid as their environmental impact was not sufficiently assessed.

It is believed that this ruling could set a precedent for new fields. 

The ruling came about as the green groups Greenpeace Norway and Nature and Youth filed a lawsuit asking the Oslo District Court to block the development of the fields, citing a failure to consider the impact of the future use of all the extracted fossil fuels on the global climate through the emissions they will release. The three fields would have been operated by the Norwegian state energy company Equinor and Aker BP for the Breidablikk, Yggdrasil and Tyrving fields which together are estimated to hold reserves of 875 million barrels of oil.

Victory for the climate over Norway

Delivering the ruling Judge Lena Skjold Rafoss said: “The court’s conclusion is that the decisions on the plan for the development and operation of petroleum deposits for Breidablikk, Yggdrasil and Tyrving are invalid.” The ruling explained that future emissions should have been assessed as part of the approval process, in line with a Supreme Court decision in 2020 and stated: “An impact assessment ensures that dissenting voices are heard and considered and that the decision-making basis is verifiable and available to the public. This is important to safeguard democratic participation in decisions that may influence the environment.”

A disappointed Norwegian Energy Minister, Terje Aasland reacted to the ruling by saying they disagreed with the verdict and would consider appealing.

The mood was different with Greenpeace Norway, with its head Frode Pleym declaring: “This is a full and complete victory for the climate over Norway.” 

Despite the ruling, the output at Breidablikke can continue until December the 31st, 2024 at which point it will be halted with the development of the two other fields halted immediately.

This is due to the fact that Breidablikk started production in October, four months ahead of schedule, with Tyrving and Yggdrasil being due to come online in 2025 and 2027 respectively.

Equinor had estimated that Breidablikke would peak its production at 55,000-60,000 barrels per day (BPD) between 2024 – 2026.

In 2020, the top court in Norway dismissed a case against Arctic drilling which was brought by two NGOs on the grounds that the government had the authority to award new oil licenses, however, they did at the same time tighten the requirements for impact assessments.

For this new lawsuit, the Norwegian state had argued that the ministry’s decisions were valid as laws and regulations did not require the Scandinavian country to assess the consequences of emissions from petroleum exports abroad. It is now clear from the ruling that Norway’s top court does not agree with that stance, and environmentalists hope that this ruling will set a precedence for similar rulings, not just in Norway, but across the world.

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