Norway is postponing its next round of new oil and gas exploration licences by a further three years as part of a domestic political deal that cuts across its promises to do all it can to help Europe with its energy crisis.
The so-called 26th licencing round for new oil and gasfields, originally scheduled for this year, had already been delayed but will now not take place for the entire parliamentary period, which ends in September 2025, as part of a deal the centre-left Norwegian government struck with a leftwing party to pass its budget.
Norway is increasingly pushing itself as a reliable and democratic supplier to Europe. The country has displaced Russia as Europe’s biggest supplier of gas since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February and is also western Europe’s biggest oil producer. But the deal struck on Tuesday goes against that rhetoric.
The Scandinavian country will still hand out licences in existing areas, which often allow oil and gas companies to expand production relatively quickly. But the 26th licencing round would be for new unexplored areas, many in the Arctic, which offer the same companies a higher-risk approach but with the prospects of bigger potential discoveries.
Oil minister Terje Aasland sought to play down the importance of the deal between the minority government and its Socialist Left (SV) support party, calling it “no drama”. Prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre said both the government and SV supported a “high and stable” level of activity in Norway’s petroleum industry.
But business and opposition politicians disagreed. Terje Halleland, energy spokesperson for the populist rightwing Progress party, said: “Tonight they will celebrate in Moscow. Putin’s regime is the only one served by the government and SV now restricting oil and gas exploration.”
He added: “The government cannot possibly have learnt anything at all for the serious security situation we are facing as a result of the energy policies pursued in Europe.”
Ståle Kyllingstad, chair of the Federation of Norwegian Industries, decried the move as “very, very sad”, adding: “It’s very worrying that the government is kowtowing to SV. The world and Europe needs energy, and we have to explore for more.”
The news came on the same day that Norwegian police decided it no longer needed the military to help it guard oil and gas installations. Armed forces from Norway and its Nato allies will continue to patrol offshore oil rigs as part of an effort to reassure the public, workers and European policymakers after the sabotage of the Nord Stream gas pipeline in September in international waters just outside Denmark and Sweden.
Norway has also been unnerved by a number of sightings of drones near to oil and gas installations. It is prosecuting several Russian citizens for flying recreational drones in different parts of the country, although not near such installations.