Norwegian Court Invalidates Approvals for North Sea Oil and Gas Projects

Norway’s energy ministry is evaluating its response after a district court ruling on January 19 overturned its approval for three significant North Sea oil and gas projects. This legal challenge was brought forth by Greenpeace and the youth wing of Friends of the Earth. The affected projects include Breidablikk, operated by state-controlled Equinor, which began production in October 2023, and Tyrving and Yggdrasil, being developed by Aker BP, Norway’s second-largest upstream producer.

The crux of the matter revolved around the emissions resulting from the consumption of oil and gas produced from these fields. The court determined that these emissions had not been adequately assessed, leading to the invalidation of the approvals. The energy ministry had argued that it was not obliged, under Norwegian and European laws, to conduct a field-by-field assessment but rather to consider the industry’s overall environmental impact.

In addition to declaring the approvals invalid, the court ruled that the state could not make any further approval decisions related to these projects and raised questions about some of the ministry’s forecasts.

The Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy issued a statement expressing its disagreement with the Oslo district court’s ruling. However, they emphasized that the ruling would have no immediate consequences for ongoing activities in the affected projects. State Secretary Astrid Bergmal stated that they were carefully reviewing the 109-page judgment before deciding whether to file an appeal.

“This ruling is not legally binding, and it is too early to predict the consequences of a final ruling,” Bergmal stated. She underlined that the ministry was committed to considering the industry’s overall impact rather than making specific assessments for each field.

This legal development in Norway mirrors a broader trend of increased scrutiny on oil and gas companies’ environmental responsibilities. Shell is currently preparing to appeal a 2021 ruling in the Netherlands that requires the company to accelerate emissions reductions and reduce its carbon footprint globally by 45% by 2030. This case not only held Shell responsible for its emissions but also those of its suppliers and customers.

A spokesperson for Aker BP, while not a party to the proceedings, called the ruling “unenforceable” and confirmed that their development projects would proceed as planned under existing permits. Equinor, on the other hand, has not yet issued a response to the ruling.

Norway, long regarded as Europe’s largest single source of gas and Western Europe’s largest oil producer, faces increasing pressure to balance its energy production with environmental concerns. This challenge comes amidst shifting energy dynamics in Europe due to the disruption of Russian gas supplies following the Ukraine conflict. The outcome of the legal battle may have far-reaching implications for the country’s energy industry and its role in Europe’s energy landscape.

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