Department of Comparative Politics
Hydrocarbon Development in the High North

US and Norwegian Approaches to Risks of Hydrocarbon Development

Please join us for a special seminar presentation by Tom Leschine, Visiting Scholar from the University of Washington. Tom will be speaking on the research that has brought him to the Department of Comparative Politics this spring.

Tom Leschine outside the Dep. of Comparative Politics
Tom Leschine outside the Dep. of Comparative Politics
Kurt-Rune Bergset

Main content

Norway and the U.S. face similar questions of risk as they move toward developing oil and gas resources in their Arctic waters. Multiple factors interact to create risks of different orders, especially in the U.S. These include: high exploration and development costs in the face of low energy prices; severe environmental conditions; the presence of highly sensitive living marine resources that are also important subsistence foods to indigenous populations; and both domestic and international political considerations. Increasingly salient for both nations is that to push oil development into the High North is to open a new chapter in the annals of fossil fuel production in the face of mounting concern worldwide about global warming.


Differences in how the two nations are approaching these questions appear to be explained by contextual differences in how each relates to its domestic petroleum industry. In the U.S. context, multiple theories of decision making appear able to explain why decisions that facilitate oil exploration in Arctic waters were made. Whether to continue petroleum development or to instead “keep it in the ground” is arguably among the most consequential and difficult questions that have ever been raised in the relationship between public and private sectors. While Norway is better positioned than the U.S. in terms of history and available instruments of control, it is far from clear that either nation will say “no” to new hydrocarbon development any time soon. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has recently remarked, forces within the global energy and associated industries themselves may prove better at resolving questions of the world’s energy and climate futures than governments.


Thomas Leschine is Ben Rabinowitz Endowed Professor of the Human Dimensions of the Environment at the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. His area of specialization is marine environmental decision making with emphasis on marine pollution management and policy, particularly risk assessment and management in relation to oil spill preparedness, prevention and response. He is currently in residence as a Visiting Scholar at UiB’s Department of Comparative Politics.