Should Green-Minded Norway Invest in Canadian Oil-Sands?

Article excerpt

It came as little surprise when Norway's partially state-owned oil company, StatoilHydro, rejected a shareholder motion last week to pull out of a $2 billion tar-sands venture in Alberta, Canada. The effort was led by the environmental group Greenpeace, which bought shares of the oil company to gain voting rights. The group claims that tar-sand extraction will affect an area the size of Florida, including millions of acres of boreal forest, and will release more than 10 times the greenhouse gases caused by conventional oil drilling. Although the science behind the environmentalists' claims is contested by the oil industry and some analysts, the central role of oil revenue in the Norwegian economy is much clearer. Norway invests oil revenues in its government pension fund, also known as the Petroleum Fund, making it one of the largest such funds in the world, with assets worth $14 billion last year. But the tar-sands investment has provoked environmentalists, who have decried the government's unwillingness to consider what they believe is the particularly severe environmental cost of wrenching oil from sand. The government is a majority shareholder in StatoilHydro, with two-thirds of the stock. The shareholder motion to disinvest was supported by several Swedish pension funds. It sent other investors in the oil-sands project, including Denmark's Danske Bank, scrambling to consult ethical investment advisers. It also put the Canadian oil-sands issue under the media spotlight in Scandinavia in the runup to the Copenhagen climate conference at the end of the year. "This puts the government in a very strange position now," says Martin Norman, a campaign manager for Greenpeace Nordic. "On the one hand, they're working very hard to get global commitment to climate-change targets at the Copenhagen climate negotiations this fall. But on the other hand, they have nothing to say about their company's activity in the tar sands." Not in Norway's backyard? Like its Nordic neighbors, Norway has long been a proponent of high environmental-protection standards. The country also shares an open electricity market with Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, 50 percent of which is renewable energy, mainly hydroelectric power. StatoilHydro counters criticism of its tar- sands investment by pointing to its growing portfolio of wind and wave energy projects and its strong environmental record for oil drilling in the North Sea. "The world needs more energy and less CO2 emissions," says Ola Morten Aanested, a spokesman for StatoilHydro in Norway. "Our operations in the North Sea are extremely CO2- efficient compared to other oil producers around the world, and that's something we can take with us to Canada." Professor Oystein Noreng, an oil industry expert at the Norwegian School of Management, and an outspoken critic of the environmental movement, says the tar-sands campaign is misdirected. …


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