OPINION: The landmark Net Zero by 2050 roadmap published last week by the International Energy Agency (IEA) looks set to place Norway's oil and gas industry firmly in the spotlight ahead of September's parliamentary elections.

The Green Party has already announced it will not support any government that allows new oil and gas field developments, and has challenged other parties to do the same.

However, the four largest parties in Norway are steadfast in their view that stopping new oil and gas activities is not an option.

It is uncertain whether the Green Party and other political players advocating limitations on Norway’s petroleum sector will secure more votes amid the clamour to stop oil and gas extraction.

Recent polls have shown that 60% to 70% of voters continue to support future Norwegian oil and gas production.

About 60% of Norwegians supported last year's controversial Covid-19 tax relief package in which the state covers 90% of the cost of all oil and gas projects sanctioned before the end of 2022 — despite criticism of the policy from some media commentators and environmental groups.

Anniken Hauglie, head of the lobbying group Norwegian Oil & Gas Association, believes the industry will retain support from Norwegian society if it keeps demonstrating its value for the country.

Hauglie does not agree with the IEA’s conclusion that all new oil and gas developments must be stopped with immediate effect in order for the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“It is not obvious that the cheapest resources with the lowest carbon footprint lie in the resources already discovered,” she told Upstream.

Norway’s Petroleum & Energy Minister Tina Bru said she views the country as "at least as well positioned" as Opec nations to cater to global oil demand out to 2050.

Both Hauglie and Bru warned against stopping exploration before several of the pre-conditions in the roadmap — such as advanced battery technology, hydrogen and direct air capture — are in place.

“To stop exploration at this time would cause a major threat to the world's energy security,” Hauglie warned.

An Australian living and working in Norway has taken a central role in the Norwegian debate about the future for petroleum — and he disagrees with Bru and Hauglie.

Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate Research in Norway and peer reviewer for the IEA’s report, said it is becoming increasingly hard to see a world that will drift back towards increased fossil fuel usage.

“Any investment decision will now have additional question marks and more uncertainty,” he told Upstream.

Although Norway's oil and gas industry still appears confident of its future role, the IEA has challenged its communication strategy.

Until now, the industry has claimed that its exploration activity is in line with the Paris Agreement and the IEA’s sustainable development scenario.

Oil companies' major concern now is not that Norway’s parliament will stop future exploration, but that the industry has fallen out of favour with younger generations.

“For the first time since I joined the industry 30 years ago, we are not succeeding in recruiting the best candidates from the universities,” an industry veteran told Upstream.

Whatever the roadmap, it is likely to be a bumpy road ahead for Norway's oil and gas sector.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)