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ENVIRONMENT

Norway to offer record number of Arctic oil and gas exploration licences

Norway on Tuesday said it plans to offer a record number of gas and oil exploration blocks in the Arctic, with environmental NGOs condemning an "aggressive" promotion of fossil fuels.

Pictured are two offshore oil platforms.
The Norwegian governemnt will offer exploration permission in "mature" zones. File photo photo: The oil platforms named Ellen (L) and Elly (R) are seen off the southern California coast. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP)

The Scandinavian nation — Europe’s primary natural gas supplier and a major oil producer — proposed 92 exploration blocks, including an unprecedented 78 in the Barents Sea in the far north. The other 14 are in the Norwegian Sea near the Arctic Circle.

“New discoveries remain necessary to continue to develop the Norwegian plateau” and are important for Europe, Oil and Energy Minister Terje Aasland said in a statement.

The announcement is part of the annual granting of oil licences in so-called “mature” zones that have already been widely explored. The centre-left government, lacking a parliamentary majority, reached an agreement with the Socialist Left party last year to forbid prospection in unexplored areas by 2025.

The government’s propositions sparked outrage among environmental organisations. Truls Gulowsen, head of the Norwegian branch of Friends of the Earth, condemned an “extremely aggressive” cycle of concessions presented as the United Nations and the International Energy Agency discourage further oil exploration to achieve climate goals.

The NGO said the proposal would violate the commitment not to explore virgin territory as some blocks were to be located far from existing infrastructure.

The right-wing opposition, a fervent defender of Norway’s oil sector, said the move was a “tactical game” by the government to give itself bargaining chips to use in future negotiations with the Socialist Left.

Oil industry body Offshore Norge welcomed the fact that “attractive areas” would be opened to prospection.

The proposals will go to a public consultation. Oil companies must submit their applications later this year and licences will be granted in January 2024.

The Barents Sea has long been seen as a productive area for the energy sector, but oil and gas extraction is so far only taking place at two sites in Norwegian waters.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Figures have revealed that routes between Oslo and Bergen and the capital and Trondheim are among the most flown in Europe, with around 20 departures a day in each direction. So why are Norwegians opting for flights over the train? 

Why cross-country flights are more popular than trains in Norway 

Flights between Oslo and Bergen and Trondheim and Oslo were the fourth and fifth busiest air routes in Europe last year, according to European data agency Eurostat. 

Around 44 daily flights between Oslo and Trondheim and 38 between Bergen and the capital took off last year, contributing to some 222,622 domestic flights in total in 2022. 

Research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) found that Norwegians’ flying habits contributed to twice as many C02 emissions as Swedish, German or French air passengers.

Flights between Oslo, Bergen and Trondheim account for around 20 percent of emissions caused by domestic flights within Norway, public broadcaster NRK reports.

So why are Norwegians choosing to fly between cities rather than taking the train or other means of transport? 

Climate researcher Helene Muri from NTNU said that several factors explain why domestic flights are far more popular than trains. 

First of all, she told NRK that the cost of taking a long-distance train between cities in Europe is cheaper and faster than it is in Norway. 

“The average Norwegian often has enough to travel with to be able to take a weekend trip and take these perhaps unnecessary flights. Trains in Norway are quite expensive, so when flying is cheaper and faster, you understand that people choose it,” she told NRK. 

For example, a flight between Oslo and Bergen can be completed in under an hour, while the train between Bergen and Oslo can take six to eight hours to complete. Trains to Trondheim from the capital take a similar time too. 

In some cases, such as when travelling to Tromsø from further south in Norway, a flight may be the most practical option due to Norway’s geography. 

“For example, Oslo-Tromsø is a stretch where it is not easy to find alternative means of transport,” Muri explained. 

Another reason why planes may be more attractive than trains is due to the sheer number of flights compared to trains. Recently the number of trains between Oslo and Bergen has been cut due to a lack of demand, with there typically being around four departures per day. 

In comparison, there are flight departures just over once an hour between the two biggest cities in Norway, meaning finding a flight to fit around one’s plans and itinerary is much easier. 

The popularity of flying between cities in Norway comes despite train travel contributing 12.2 grams of C02 per passenger per kilometre to the 236 grams of C02 emitted by planes per traveller and kilometre

Muri said that to entice more travellers onto trains, journey speeds and onboard amenities would need to be improved. 

“The time it takes to take a train between cities in Norway has actually increased. It takes longer now than it did before. It’s a bit remarkable and takes things in a bit of a wrong direction,” she said. 

“Increased capacity, increased speed and the availability of stable broadband in the trains are measures that can help shift traffic from the air onto the railway network,” she added. 

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