Norwegian bishop's oil moratorium call excites debate

By Ecumenical News International
February 24, 2009

Some Norwegian church leaders want a five-year moratorium on oil and gas exploration on Norway's continental shelf in the North Sea, in particular off the Lofoten archipelago in the Arctic Circle, but a labour union leader has rejected the idea.

"We need to pause to reflect," (Lutheran) Church of Norway Bishop Tor B. Joergensen of Soer-Haalogaland (Bodoe) told journalists on 16 February. "If Norway is to work for a more just global climate agreement, we cannot increase emissions from our petroleum industry. An expansion of the exploration area will be irresponsible towards the world's poor," the bishop said.

Backing him were leaders of the Church of Norway's national council and its council on ecumenical and foreign relations, representatives of the Christian Council of Norway and of Norwegian Church Aid.

Bishop Joergensen led a procession from Oslo's Trinity Church to the Storting (parliament), where he handed out alarm clocks to lawmakers. "It is time you wake up and seriously face the challenges ahead," the bishop said.

While some parliamentarians, from the Socialist Left Party, the Centre Party, the Liberal Party and the Christian Democratic Party supported the idea of a moratorium, Conservative Party and Progress Party representatives rejected the proposal. The Labour-Socialist Left-Centre Government did not comment immediately.

Oeyvind Silaamo, a county secretary of the Norwegian Federation of Trade Unions, described the church proposal as "ridiculous". He noted that, "150 000 of our members directly or indirectly have their jobs in the oil and gas sector. Norway needs jobs, that should be understood also by the church." He advised his members to leave the church.

Conservative parliamentarian Peter Gitmark said Norway is delivering environment-friendly natural gas to many European countries. "This replaces coal-fired power plants, which is a good thing to do," Gitmark asserted. He said a moratorium would lead to major problems for Norwegian industry.

Bishop Joergensen's colleague to the north, Bishop Per Oscar Kjoelaas of Nord-Haalogaland (Tromsoe), told journalists that the proposal should have been discussed more broadly. "There is no conflict between preserving Creation and leading a responsible oil and gas policy. There is not just one answer to this problem. There are several," said Kjoelaas.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

Keywords:oil | norway | Environment | Economy
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