The Lofoten islands, located in the Arctic Circle off the northwestern tip of Norway, have long been at the centre of a heated row between conservationists and oil giants over an untapped oil field worth an estimated €53 billion (£45 billion). They have been kept off limits for years, and now any chance of oil production in the area has been pushed back even further after the Labor Party confirmed they would not support oil activity in the area. The opposition party provides the biggest parliamentary force in Norway, meaning the move creates a solid majority to protect the sensitive Lofoten islands from drilling. Traditionally a supporter of the oil industry, the change in party stance came after a petition was delivered containing 53,000 signatures from around the world opposing Lofoten oil exploration.
The move was announced by leader Jonas Gahr Store at a press conference on Saturday.
Mr Store had earlier urged oil companies in Norway to commit to a deadline for making operations completely emissions free, amid rising concern over climate change.
Karl Eirik Schjott-Pedersen, head of the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association, told Bloomberg he was disappointed by the announcement as other oil giants expressed the need to drill in Lofoten in order for Norway to maintain its status as the top producer in Western Europe.
Oil and gas currently make up more than half of exports from Norway.
He said: “The whole industry is surprised and disappointed.
“It doesn’t provide the predictability we depend on.”
Meanwhile, the minister of petroleum and energy Kjell-Børge Freiberg said the move could be detrimental for Norway’s oil industry.
He told Norwegian newspaper VG: “I believe this is a fight for the future of the petroleum industry in the north, not about Lofoten as the Labour Party is trying to portray.
“This is… the beginning of oil decommissioning.”
Ingrid Skjoldvaer, the deputy chair of pressure group Folkeaksjonen, who have been campaigning to keep oil exploration away from the Lofoten islands, expressed relief over the announcement
He told City AM: “For more than a decade we have been advocating for the Labour Party to stand on the right side of history and vote to protect one of the world’s most vulnerable and unique marine areas against oil and gas development.”
Top explorers on the Norwegian continental shelf include Equinor, Aker BP and Lundin Petroleum, among others.
Last month the chief executive of Norway’s energy giant Equinor admitted his firm is struggling to find new renewables project to invest in.
Eldar Saetre told Reuters: “There aren’t enough projects.”
The Norwegian firm, which last year changed its name from Statoil, plans to increase its share of spending on clean energy from five percent to 15 to 20 percent by 2030.