King Harald was scheduled to attend on Tuesday of this week the official opening of a large oil field, the so-called Johan Sverdrup field, in the North Sea. Due to the stresses of Ari Behn’s death, the Royal Court announced Monday afternoon that the King cannot attend. A brief statement from the Royal Court states: “Due to recent stresses, His Majesty the King will not participate in the opening of the Johan Sverdrup oil field as planned.” Ari Behn, Princess Märtha Louise’s ex-husband, was buried from Oslo Cathedral on Friday after taking his life on Christmas Day.
Tomorrow’s programme should have consisted of a grand opening ceremony followed by lunch. King Harald should, after lunch, have been given a guided tour of the platform and an introduction to how the production will take place in the years to come. According to the Kings programme, King Harald will on Wednesday receive the Swedish Foreign Minister in the audience, and on Thursday, the King will receive the Norwegian Foreign Minister in the audience. On Friday, he will hold the first council of state in 2020 before going to Trondheim to watch a handball match. It is uncertain whether several of the week’s events will be cancelled.
Before the royal opening, a grand discussion erupted when party leader Une Bastholm from the Green Party on Sunday issued a statement criticising the state-owned Norwegian oil company Equinor and the Norwegian government for putting King Harald in a situation where he “must throw his shine and glory on an oil project that will contribute massively to the climate crisis”.
This statement from the Green party has been met with strong reactions from both the political left and right in Norway. The majority of politicians say it is shocking and unworthy that the Green Party has drawn the King into the Norwegian environmental policy. “It is disrespectfully done by the Green Party to use King Harald politically in this way to make themselves interesting. I think the Norwegian people will react strongly to this”, said Oil and Energy Minister Sylvi Listhaug.
The Norwegian Prime Minister also responded to the fact that the environmental movement drew Norway’s monarch into politics. Prime Minister Erna Solberg commented Monday morning: “I won’t put labels on the Green Party. But that Johan Sverdrup field will be important for value creation and welfare in Norway for many, many years to come, there is no doubt. It is quite natural for the King to participate in the opening of one of the largest contributions to Norwegian welfare in the years to come”.
The Johan Sverdrup field, popular in Norway also called the elephant field, is an oil field in the North Sea 140 kilometres west of the city of Stavanger. The field was detected in 2010; 40 years of operation are planned. It is the third-largest oil field on the Norwegian continental shelf which is detected so far. Production started on 5 October 2019, over two months earlier than planned. The field has the potential to increase Norway’s total oil production by 37% in 2020.
King Harald has a long history of supporting the Norwegian oil industry and has participated in a number of events. In 1995, he stood for the official opening of the Troll oil field. In 2016, the King participated in the 50-year mark of Norwegian oil production by visiting several platforms in the North Sea