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The Norwegian government dismissed reports on Thursday that it might lift bans on oil and gas exploration near picturesque islands in the Arctic Ocean before elections in 2017.
Reuters reported that the Oil and Energy Ministry had sent oil companies letters rejecting news reports that the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands would be included in an upcoming licensing round.
"That's never been the case,” the ministry wrote in a statement.
Last week, the government had asked oil and gas companies to nominate blocks for future exploration that had already been open to oil and gas drilling.
The Lofoten region, which hosts sharp mountains rising from the sea, has been closed for drilling since 2013, when the right-wing government and two central parties reached a deal protecting the area’s rich cod spawning grounds from oil interests.
Hundreds of Norwegians gathered in central Oslo on Thursday to encourage the government to pursue action against climate change and take steps to protect the environment.
"We have to ensure that the Arctic is kept off limits," Truls Gulowsen, chief of Greenpeace Norway, told Reuters.
Had the Oil Ministry allowed exploratory drilling on the islands, the government would have likely collapsed before the September 2017 elections. The two centrist parties had demanded that Lofoten be off-limits to oil interests if the minority right-wing party wanted to retain a majority of seats in the parliament in 2013.
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Last month, Norway’s government announced new plans to use profits from oil and gas operations to fund clean energy projects.
Past Norwegian initiatives in the field of environmentalism include projects to contribute $1 billion to maintain the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and donating $350 million annually to protect wildlife in Indonesia and Guyana.
“We know there is a paradox,” Vidar Helgesen, the country's climate and energy minister, admitted in an official statement. ”We have been living well from oil and gas. But there is no country in the world that has done more to undermine the oil and gas industry than Norway.”
Since 1990, Norway has diverted much of its oil earnings to its climate change sovereign wealth fund, which has become the world’s largest. The money, reaching $890 billion as of June 2014, amounts to $178,000 for every Norwegian citizen.
By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com
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Zainab Calcuttawala is an American journalist based in Morocco. She completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook’em) and reports on…