December 21, 2022

Exposed: Equinor’s five biggest climate crimes

Written by Jessica Kleczka and Stine Wilhelmsen

Equinor has largely escaped scrutiny in the UK in the past, only rising to public consciousness this year over its destructive Rosebank oil field - the biggest undeveloped oil field in the British North Sea, which would emit as much CO2 as the world’s 28 lowest income countries, or, in other words, more pollution than the world’s 700 million poorest people produce in a whole year. But Equinor, which is majority-owned by the Norwegian state, has a record of planet-wrecking projects and climate pledges which are empty of substance whilst busting our remaining carbon budget. With the aim of exposing  Equinor’s greenwashing, we’ve looked at five of their most destructive projects around the world.

Stop Rosebank protest in front of the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree in London, a yearly gift from Norway to the UK. Photo: Angela Christofilou

Masters of Greenwashing

Despite Equinor’s grand promises to halve emissions by 2030 and go Net Zero by 2050, only a miniscule 0.15% of their energy comes from renewable sources. Meanwhile, they sold around 88 times more gas and around 96 times more oil compared to energy sold from operating wind farms.

Research by Climate Action 100+ showed that Equinor is the 5th worst on their list of companies whose expenditure would breach a 1.75C climate target - ranking even worse than fellow climate criminals Shell and BP. And rather than moving away from fossil fuels, Equinor’s plan is to merely increase their share of renewable energy - on top of, rather than replacing fossil fuels. What’s worse, the oil giant is planning to further increase fossil fuel production, whilst claiming to decarbonise through CCS (which is still unproven to be effective at scale), as well as electrifying production, often by putting wind turbines on oil rigs - a controversial practice as the oil and gas production only accounts for about 5-10% of total emissions from fossil fuels. On average, 90% of the industry’s emissions come from the actual burning of fossil fuels. 

In an interview, Equinor’s chief economist admitted that the company does not make investment decisions based on a 1.5 degree global heating scenario - meaning that allowing any of their projects directly jeopardises countries’ climate targets where they are enshrined in law. The UK has an ambitious decarbonisation target of 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels; however, its Net Zero Strategy has been deemed unlawful by the high court recently as it doesn’t quantify how its policies will achieve the needed emissions reductions. Allowing projects like Rosebank will do nothing to improve our credibility as a self-proclaimed climate leader. A recent report by  Oslo Economics found that Equinor’s continued investment in new oil and gas could  hinder a just transition by locking skills desperately needed in the clean energy sector into the petroleum industry. To top it off, Equinor tries to shift responsibility for its own Net Zero targets onto individual behaviour change:

“The achievement of Equinor’s net zero and net carbon intensity ambitions depends, in part, on broader societal shifts in consumer demands and technological advancements, each of which are beyond Equinor’s control. Should society’s demands and technological innovation not shift in parallel with Equinor’s pursuit of significant greenhouse gas emission reductions, Equinor’s ability to meet its net zero and net carbon intensity ambitions will be impaired”

Bay du Nord, Canada

Equinor’s Bay du Nord is a deepwater offshore oil drilling project located in a sensitive marine ecosystem off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Equinor's plans would jeopardise an extremely sensitive, biodiverse area. An oil spill could take over 36 days to cap, and the impact on marine life would be catastrophic. Recent estimates suggest that over its lifetime, Bay du Nord is projected to produce between 300 million to one billion barrels of oil, which could in turn generate about 400 million tonnes of carbon — that’s the equivalent of the emissions from 7-10 million cars per year.

Campaigners are demanding that Equinor cancel the destructive Bay du Nord project and invest in safe, renewable energy for Canadian communities.

Take action: Sign the petition to stop the Bay du Nord project

Stop Bay Du Nord
Protest against Bay du Nord in Canada. Photo: Jacques Nadeau, Le Devoir

Mar Argentino, Argentina

Equinor, together with YPF, is pushing to expand a new fossil fuels frontier in the Argentine Sea (Mar Argentino) in a feeding ground for hundreds of species, among them whales, dolphins and penguins. Initial seismic exploration has been stopped thanks to a legal case arguing that the seismic exploration is unconstitutional due to its impact on the sea, biodiversity, climate as well as present and future generations. 

Protest against the exploitation of the Argentine Sea in Buenos Aires. Photo: Lucía Alejandra Prieto / Greenpeace

Ecos de Mar is one of the grassroots groups working against the expansion of fossil fuel extraction in the sea and taking on Equinor and their pursuit of more fossil fuels. Follow them to find out more about the campaign in Argentina.

Read this blog post by Greenpeace Argentina to find out more

Wisting, Norway

Located in the Barents Sea, Equinor’s proposed Wisting oil field could become the world's northernmost oil field. If the oil beneath Wisting were produced, it would emit over 200 million tonnes of CO2 – three times as much as Cambo. In the event of a spill, oil could reach irreplaceable biodiversity hotspots connected to the polar ice. Wisting is only profitable for the Norwegian State and Equinor, largely because of a temporary tax benefit granted to oil companies after Covid-19. While Wisting would provide few if any local jobs, platform workers working over 300 kilometres offshore would be at grave risk in the event of an accident. Building the Wisting field would also involve a big instalment of oil infrastructure in frontier areas - paving the way for more arctic oil and gas exploration.

Activists from Greenpeace Nordic staged a protest at the Equinor Garden Party in Norway, to call for a stop to WistingPhoto: Marthe Haarstad / Greenpeace

Equinor has faced huge opposition in Norway over their plans to develop Wisting, from youth parties, environmental organisations, trade unions and more. Last month, the Stop Wisting campaign  successfully halted Equinor’s plans to open up Wisting, with Equinor saying they’ll review the field again in 2026. 

Protest against Equinor and Rosebank in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Eliah Willis

Rosebank oil field, United Kingdom

The Rosebank oil field has been the focus of our campaign since this summer. At 500 million barrels (most of which is oil) and three times the size of Cambo, Rosebank is the biggest undeveloped oil field in the North Sea - with an emissions equivalent of the world’s 28 lowest-income countries, or the 700 million poorest people in the Global South. Despite being framed as a solution to the energy price crisis, most of Rosebank’s oil would be exported - while the UK is handing Rosebank’s owners including Equinor a tax break of £500 million. Rosebank’s pipeline could endanger protected marine life, cutting through the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt which is home to sensitive deep sea sponges and 400 year-old clams.

A decision on the field development was delayed this week, after the regulation asked Equinor more questions regarding its Environmental Impact Assessment. Equinor may have played down potential threats for marine ecosystems and emissions from gas leaks, as well as not specifying how Rosebank will be compatible both with Equinor’s and the UK’s climate targets.

Sign the Stop Rosebank open letter on behalf of your organisation

Email your MP or MSP to #StopRosebank

Stop Rosebank campaigners at the COP27 global day of action in London. Photo: Jessica Kleczka

Bacalhau oil field, Brazil

Equinor has a significant presence in Brazil, the largest under development is the Bacalhau oil field. WWF Brazil estimates that Bacalhau potentially contains 2 billion barrels of oil in the pre-salt area in the Santos basin, off the Sao Paulo coast. Burning that oil would create over 800 million tonnes of CO2 - almost half of the Brazilian total annual emissions. This comes on top of 18 million tonnes CO2 in production emissions (running the field), which would be equivalent to 3.8 additional fossil fuel cars on the streets. Additionally, the project will not use the gas produced, increasing the risk of it leaking into the atmosphere which would cause yet more planet-heating emissions. The project benefits from many subsidies to the oil and gas industry in Brazil – estimated at $25 billion in 2020.

Read more about the Bacalhau oil field

Stop Rosebank campaigners protest next to the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree, which is gifted by norway to the UK every year. Photo: Angela Christofilou

Growing resistance against Equinor

The resistance against Equinor is growing, and the world is finally waking up to the fact that there is no place for their climate-wrecking projects on a liveable planet.  We’ve recently  joined forces with campaigners from around the world to launch Equinor Out, a global alliance fighting against Equinor's exploration of new oil and gas reserves. If we want to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees, there can be no Rosebank, Wisting, or Bay du Nord, or Bacalhau. 

To reach the Paris temperature target we’d have to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, and fully decarbonise by 2050 relative to 2015 levels. Meanwhile, governments are planning to produce more than double the fossil fuels that would be consistent with that target. According to the International Energy Agency, there can be absolutely no new oil, gas, and coal if we want to avoid climate catastrophe - rich countries like Norway and their state-owned oil company should invest in a just transition to renewable energy, not continue to profit from climate-wrecking fossil fuel projects. 

Stop Rosebank campaigners outside the North Sea Transition Authority in London. Photo: Andrea Domeniconi

Luckily, we already have the best weapon against Equinor’s destructive projects in our hands - our voices, our movements and the public pressure they create. In 2020, the Fight for the Bight Alliance fought Equinor’s plans to develop the Great Australian Bight as a deep water oil field, forcing the oil giant to abandon the area after a successful public pressure campaign led by local communities. People have defied Equinor before, we can do it again.

It’s now been a year since the Stop Cambo coalition stopped the Cambo oil field in the North Sea - and through coalition-building and strategic organising, we have a very good chance to stop all other new fields, both in the UK and around the world. We’ll see you on the streets.

Take action…

Cover image: Stop Rosebank campaigners after the petition hand-in in Westminster, London. Photo: Angela Christofilou