Oil and gas development in Greenland: A social license to operate, trust and legitimacy in environmental governance

C. Smits*, J. van Leeuwen, J.P.M. van Tatenhove

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Since the turn of the century, Greenland has been examining the possibilities to develop its potential oil and gas resources. The large scale oil and gas activities will impact the small Greenlandic society, both positively and negatively. In this paper we employ the concept of a social license to operate to address the risks of an activity, represented by the acceptance or approval of an activity by societal actors. The focus of existing research is primarily on the interaction between local communities and companies. However, in an increasingly complex society, where the role of governments, companies and civil society is subject to constant change, social licenses to operate should be studied in an integrated way, to deal with all essential elements that influence the successful implementation of controversial activities.

This paper builds on the idea that successful implementation of an activity is determined by social, political and legal licenses. Trust and legitimacy are regarded as the fundamental principles on which all three licenses are based. This paper therefore adopts an integrated approach, in which the role of the political and legal licenses is taken into account as well as the social license. This approach provides for a more thorough analysis for different sources of personal and institutionalised trust as well as input, throughput and output legitimacy across the three licenses. The case study also illustrates the potential role of the government in co-shaping a social license to operate.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-116
JournalResources Policy
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Greenland
  • oil and gas
  • trust
  • legitimacy
  • social license to operate


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