Oil and climate
10 common claims about Norwegian oil and gas
A number of erroneous claims have been used to defend Norway continuing with its polluting oil industry. We have compiled a list of 10 of the most common assertions and our objections to them.
1. "Norwegian oil and gas are the cleanest in the world"
Incorrect: the oil industry claims that Norwegian oil is better for the climate because some Norwegian oilfields produce fewer emissions at the production stage than oilfields in other parts of the world. That’s not much of a win on the climate front though. At least 90% of oil and gas emissions are released during refining, through other forms of processing and through burning - whether in a car or a power station – and not at the extraction stage. Oil and gas are fundamentally polluting. The burning of Norwegian oil and gas account for 1.5% of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels: that is high in relation to our population and size.
These “low” emissions from Norwegian oil and gas production are not much to boast about anyway. As we are operating more “mature” oilfields on the Norwegian shelf, the amount of emissions from each oil ton increases as a result of it more energy intensive to extract the remaining supply. Therefore in spite of an overall reduction in the oil and gas produced in Norway’s fields, we have not managed to reduce production related emissions, but rather the opposite.
2. Norwegian oil will reduce emissions by replacing coal
Incorrect: in 2013, Statistics Norway concluded that for every 1% reduction in Norwegian oil production, global carbon dioxide emissions decrease by about one million tons (which roughly equates to 2% of Norway’s annual emissions total). However, oil and coal are used in completely different ways: oil is used mainly for heating and fuel whereas coal is used for producing electricity. Have you, for example, seen many coal-driven cars on the road?
3. Norwegian gas will reduce emissions by replacing coal
Incorrect: it has long been claimed that Norwegian gas is good for the climate because it can replace coal. Nobody has yet presented any comprehensive analysis of this, and the burden of producing evidence for this argument should rest with those who wish to use it as an excuse for increased gas extraction. Meanwhile, a report from Statistics Norway shows there is every indication that a reduction in gas exports will have a modest effect on global emissions.
4. The world needs our energy
Incorrect: it is a misconstrued belief that “the world” needs more energy in the form of Norwegian gas and oil. The demand for consumer energy continues to increase, but it is both insecure and short-sighted to meet this demand with fossil fuels. There are far better ways to supply these energy needs than through short-term, non-sustainable solutions which destroy the very basis of our existence on Earth.
5. Norwegian oil and gas will contribute energy to those in fuel poverty
Incorrect: with very few exceptions, we do not export oil and gas to developing countries. A reduction in Norwegian oil production will therefore have little effect upon the energy situation in poor countries.
6. Electrification of the continental shelf and carbon storage will solve the climate problem
Uncertain: Naturvernforbundet welcomes an emissions reduction linked to Norwegian oil and gas production. However this has no bearing on the amount of oil, gas and coal which needs to be left underground in order to avoid dangerous climate changes. The main problem is not the emissions produced when the oil is extracted but those produced when it is burned elsewhere.
7. We could extract more oil and gas in Norway and still limit global warming to 2°C
Incorrect: the UN Convention on Climate Change, in which nearly every country has committed itself to fighting climate change, sets the threshold for “critical” climate changes at 2ºC. Our government’s climate policy has been based on achieving this “2ºC target”. The UN’s climate panel has set up a “carbon budget” based on how much carbon dioxide we can afford to release into the atmosphere in order to stay below this target. The budget indicates that around 80% of the fossil fuel reserves that we currently know about must stay below ground. A study published in the well known journal Nature, concludes that all of the oil and gas north of the arctic circle must remain in the ground in order to avoid a rise of 2ºC.
8. If Norway doesn’t extract the oil in the north, the Russians will!
Incorrect: Russia is often used as an excuse for the extension of Norway’s oil industry further north. The argument goes, if we don’t damage the Arctic then Russia will. Up to now Norway seems to have led the way in oil activities here: within the last 15 years, Norway has drilled twice as much in the area as Russia.
9. The global price of carbon dioxide will solve the problem
Yes but …: every country needs to reach agreement before a global price for carbon dioxide can be arrived at. Having seen how difficult it is to enter into binding climate agreements, we can’t sit and wait until every country is in agreement. Every country which has the potential to lead the way must do so. Norway has a particular responsibility in this.
10. Whatever we do at home will be insignificant in the fight to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions
Incorrect: Every single ton of carbon dioxide counts. Norway’s total carbon dioxide emissions amount to roughly 50 million tons per year, which presents an enormous potential for reducing. The burning of Norwegian oil and gas emits around 500 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, in other words ten times the nation’s emissions total!