Sunday

17th Feb 2019

Norway's oil capital braces for change

  • One of Stavanger's nicknames is 'oil capital' and one of its tourism attractions is the Norwegian Oil Museum (Photo: Ben Bodien)

Two worlds exist side by side in Stavanger, Norway's fourth-largest city on the country's south-western coast.

One world is that of the oil and gas industry, which accounted for much of the economic development in the past decades. It has earned Stavanger the nickname 'oil capital' – although the city's government prefers the broader title 'energy capital'.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The other world is an increased sustainable awareness in the city of around 130,000, where people on bikes are seen perhaps as frequently as drivers of electrical vehicles.

There is a bit of a friendly race going on with the country's capital, Oslo, said Tone Grindland, head of economic development for the Stavanger government.

"They have the highest number of electic cars, but we have it per capita", Grindland told this website. In fact, Norway as a whole is a trend-setter in terms of plug-in electric vehicles, thanks to government tax incentives.

But how long can these two worlds continue to co-exist?

The economic effects of the drop in oil prices, which are now over 50 percent lower than last year, are starting to be felt in the city, as well as in Norway as a whole.

On Wednesday (16 September), Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv reported that for the first time in history, the value of the country's gas exports exceeded that of its oil exports.

Over the past 12 months, Norway exported 232 billion krones (around €25 billion) worth of natural gas, against 216 billion krones of oil.

On Tuesday, airline SAS announced it would stop operating direct flights between Stavanger and Houston, another oil hub. The flights were also dubbed the oil route.

"As a consequence of reduced activity in the oil industry, SAS has experienced a severe decrease in demand and thus passenger loads on the Stavanger-Houston route. Hence, SAS no longer has sound commercial grounds for continuing this niche route", the company said in a statement.

Add to that political statements at increasingly high levels calling for an end date for the use of fossil fuels, and you can understand why change is in the air.

Changes afoot

"The key word in Norway nowadays is change", said Stavanger's mayor, Christine Sagen Helgo Thursday (17 September) in a speech.

Sagen Helgo spoke at the Nordic Edge Expo, a conference about smart cities – cities using technology to improve livability and sustainability.

"Business and public sector need to prepare widening the scope of economic development", added the mayor, who represents Norway's centre-right Conservative Party. But change will not come overnight.

"We will continue producing oil for at least fifty years", Sagen Helgo said.

For some of Norway's citizens, that is not fast enough.

Green electoral success

At local elections on Monday (14 September), the Green party did surprisingly well.

Two years ago, it won its first seat in the 169-seat national parliament with 2.8 percent of the votes. This year, the greens did well in several municipalities, most strikingly in Oslo, where they became the third-largest party in Oslo with 8.1 percent of the vote.

The election result was at the forefront of the minds of the Norwegian conference participants.

"The Greens did a very strong election. I think it says something about people's ability to see that the future is a lower carbon future", said Toril Nag of renewable energy company Lyse.

Although Norway is known for its exports of fossil fuels oil and gas, which contribute to possibly catastrophic global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions, Norwegian electricity is very green.

98 percent comes from renewable energy thanks to the massive hydropower capacity. Which means that the electric cars driving around – recognizable by 'EL' on the number plate – are actually almost carbon neutral, unlike electric cars that charge electricity created by coal-fired power plants.

"Even if the power prices are low, I think it appeals to Norwegians to be able to produce our own energy. And it also appeals to our green side to contribute. It is not only our region that is asking the question: what now, Norway?”, noted Nag.

Soul-searching

According to Ivar Rusdal, chairman of the conference, there "has been too little soul-searching" in Norway about the role of fossil fuels.

"The moment the oil prices started to decrease there were cries of crisis, and 'what's going to happen?'. … It is a fact of life that it is a very important sector for the national economy, and will remain so for a long time. You can't disregard it", Rusdal told this website.

But he pointed to the electoral victory of the greens as a sign of a possible change.

"We will have voices much more strongly advocating to make a strategy for closing this business, within, say, twenty years", Rusdal said.

Stavanger city official Tone Grindland denied that there is an identity crisis going on.

"We really need to make sure that we as a city have a high profile in being a smart city, being an innovative city, working as a tech cluster, and having these other profiles. ... It's not a shift of identity, but it's a development", said Grindland.

"The businesses that are here today … they have had one market which is the oil and gas sector. They know that they have technology they can use in other areas. I don't know if it's a shift, but for sure it's a change.”

NB: Lyse invited EUobserver to attend the Nordic Edge Expo and paid for travel and accommodation, but the company had no editorial influence over this article

Chemnitz neo-Nazis pose questions for Germany

UN human rights commissioner urged EU leaders to condemn violence that recalled the 1930s, but the local situation in former East Germany does not apply to the whole country.

News in Brief

  1. Spain's Sanchez calls snap election on 28 April
  2. 15,000 Belgian school kids march against climate change
  3. May suffers fresh Brexit defeat in parliament
  4. Warning for British banks over Brexit staff relocation
  5. Former Italian PM wants Merkel for top EU post
  6. Antisemitic incidents up 10% in Germany
  7. Italy's asylum rejection rate at record high
  8. Hungary will not claim EU funds for fraudulent project

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  2. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  4. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  7. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”

Latest News

  1. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  2. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?
  3. Brexit and trip to Egypt for Arab League This WEEK
  4. Belgian spy scandal puts EU and Nato at risk
  5. EU Parliament demands Saudi lobby transparency
  6. Saudi Arabia, but not Russia, on EU 'dirty money' list
  7. EU agrees draft copyright reform, riling tech giants
  8. Rutte warns EU to embrace 'Realpolitik' foreign policy

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  8. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  9. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  11. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  12. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us