Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Press Release

Norwegian Supreme Court: Okay to Explore for New Oil. Producing It Is Another Matter

WASHINGTON -

In a decision that disappointed climate advocates while offering little comfort to oil producers or investors, the Norwegian Supreme Court today upheld the government’s 2011 and 2013 grants of exploration licenses in the Arctic but put a big question mark on whether any oil discovered could actually be produced.

Today’s decision culminates four years of litigation in a landmark case brought by Greenpeace Nordic, Nature and Youth, and other organizations arguing that the grant of exploration licenses in the Barents Sea violated the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the Norwegian constitution.

In a decision narrow in its legal holdings but broad in its risks for the industry, the Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Norwegian constitution protects citizens from environmental harms, including the climate harms created by burning exported oil, but declined to enforce that right against an oil exploration licensing scheme expressly authorized by Parliament.

While the Court considered future emissions from exported oil too uncertain to bar the granting of the petroleum exploration licenses at issue in the case, it held that these emissions would have “great weight” in any future decision regarding the production of any oil discovered. The court observed that even significant investments in exploration did not entitle companies to extract any fossil fuels that might be found, stating that the authorities will have the “right and duty” to deny production licenses if granting them would violate the constitutional right to a healthy environment.

“The Court’s decision shifts the legal burden back to the government to seriously address the climate impacts of oil exports in any future production licensing,” said CIEL President Carroll Muffett. “And by delaying those decisions even as the climate crisis accelerates, the Court has dramatically increased the risk that costly investments in oil exploration will add more unexploitable and worthless reserves to companies’ mounting piles of stranded assets.”

Today’s judgment will also increase pressure for Norway’s leadership to listen to their citizens, heed the overwhelming science, and join Denmark and others in halting new oil and gas production.

###

Since 1989, the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has worked to strengthen and use international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society.

Summit Participants Embrace 'Vaccine Internationalism' to End Pandemic

"Our goal is simple: to end the pandemic as quickly as possible by securing Covid-19 vaccines for all," says the coordinator of Progressive International's four-day virtual summit.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


As Iran Elects New President, Experts Urge Biden to Rejoin Nuclear Deal, Lift Sanctions

"The Biden administration must remain resolute and seek a break from the disastrous conditions that helped contribute to this result."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


UN General Assembly Condemns Myanmar Junta Violence, Urges Arms Embargo

Member nations voted 119-1 in favor of the resolution, which also calls for a return to the country's fragile democracy.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·


Dems Introduce Abolition Amendment to Scrap Constitution's 'Slavery Clause'

"The loophole in our Constitution's ban on slavery not only allowed slavery to continue, but launched an era of discrimination and mass incarceration that continues to this day," said Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


'Surreal' and 'Distressing': Climate Experts' Predictions Come True With US Heatwave

"The current heatwave and drought leave no doubt, we are living the dangerous effects of the climate crisis."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·