By Associated Press
Europe’s frantic search for alternatives to Russian energy has dramatically increased the demand — and price — for Norway’s oil and gas.
As the money pours in, Europe’s second-biggest natural gas supplier is fending off accusations that it’s profiting from the war in Ukraine.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who is looking to the Scandinavian country to replace some of the gas Poland used to get from Russia, said Norway’s “gigantic” oil and gas profits are “indirectly preying on the war.” He urged Norway to use that windfall to support the hardest-hit countries, mainly Ukraine.
The comments last week touched a nerve, even as some Norwegians wonder whether they’re doing enough to combat Russia’s war by increasing economic aid to Ukraine and helping neighboring countries end their dependence on Russian energy to power industry, generate electricity and fuel vehicles.
Taxes on the windfall profits of oil and gas companies have been common in Europe to help people cope with soaring energy bills, now exacerbated by the war. Spain and Italy both approved them, while the United Kingdom’s government plans to introduce one. Morawiecki is asking Norway to go further by sending oil and profits to other nations.
Norway, one of Europe’s richest countries, committed 1.09% of its national income to overseas development — one of the highest percentages worldwide — including more than $200 million in aid to Ukraine.
With oil and gas coffers bulging, some would like to see even more money earmarked to ease the effects of the war — and not skimmed from the funding for agencies that support people elsewhere.
“Norway has made dramatic cuts into most of the U.N. institutions and support for human rights projects in order to finance the cost of receiving Ukrainian refugees,” said Berit Lindeman, policy director of human rights group the Norwegian Helsinki Committee.
She helped organize a protest Wednesday outside Parliament in Oslo, criticizing government priorities and saying the Polish remarks had “some merits.”
“It looks really ugly when we know the incomes have skyrocketed this year,” Lindeman said.
Oil and gas prices were already high amid an energy crunch and have spiked because of the war.
Natural gas is trading at three to four times what it was at the same time last year. International benchmark Brent crude oil burst through $100 a barrel after the invasion three months ago and has rarely dipped below since.
Norwegian energy giant Equinor, which is majority owned by the state, earned four times more in the first quarter compared with the same period last year.
The bounty led the government to revise its forecast of income from petroleum activities to 933 billion Norwegian kroner ($97 billion) this year — more than three times what it earned in 2021.
The vast bulk will be funneled into Norway’s massive sovereign wealth fund — the world’s largest — to support the nation when oil runs dry. The government isn’t considering diverting it elsewhere.
Norway has “contributed substantial support to Ukraine since the first week of the war, and we are preparing to do more,” State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson said by email.
He said the country has sent financial support, weapons and over 2 billion kroner in humanitarian aid “independently of oil and gas prices.”