Commentary, 1/2, 2003

Published Dec 12, 2003
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Thinking Ahead
Following Statoil’s second major contract to Spanish Dragados in a very short time, the workers at Aker Kvaerner are despairing. Politicians and Statoil’s leaders are the targets of their anger. Aker Kvaerner’s management appears more cautious.

Workers or management alike, their main problem is the lack of a comprehensible petroleum industry policy in Norway – which the debate following the Dragados contracts showed clearly. While former Oil & Energy Minister from the Centre Party, Marit Arnstad, was angry that Norwegians lost the contracts, she knows her party voted against the whole project in the first place. When former Oil & Energy Minister from the Labor Party, Olav Akselsen accuses the present Industry Minster Ansgar Gabrielsen as well as Oil & Energy Minister Einar Steensnæs of being to lenient with the market, he was the one in office when Statoil was privatised. Akselsen has always worked hard in order to secure the workplaces at the Norwegian yards. But the present structure of the industry was developed when he was in office, so what scenario did he have in mind when thinking ahead?

As long as the politicians are continuing to focus on their differences, instead of finding a common ground on which to build better and lasting frame conditions for the industry, the decisions will continue to be arbitrary, giving the industry trouble.

Olav Fjell is fighting hard to keep the costs down on the Snøhvit project, which is already running billions over budget. He had no choice but to choose Dragados. But it is strange that Statoil refuses to wait for a commission set up by its majority owner, to look into whether illegal subsidies influenced Dragados’ bid. Statoil is simply begging to be perceived as the big bad wolf.

When Aker Kvaerner’s CEO, Helge Lund, recently visited the Rosenberg yard in Stavanger he made it clear that if the margins are diminishing further, the company will act swiftly and move more activity abroad. Already 70 percent of Aker Kvaerner’s fabrication is taking place outside Norway. That percentage it set to increase, as no major contracts are in sight for Rosenberg. Aker Kvaerner might win a contract from ConocoPhillips, to be awarded in March, for a new Ekofisk platform. That will probably provide activity for the Verdal and Egersund yards, but not for Rosenberg.

Aker Kvaerner’s yards in Norway have become more of a liability than an asset to the company. The loss of the Snøhvit contract is another nail in the coffin for Rosenberg. The Aker Kvaerner management did not have to hammer it in, as the Statoil chiefs seemed only too pleased to do it for them.

Amidst the problems, there is no shortage of people eager to offer their advices. Two scholars who recently presented their points of view are the BI Principal Torger Reve and Econ Director Kjell Roland. They published ‘Energi-Norges fremtid’ (The Future of Energy-Norway), a book on the challenges ahead for the oil industry. Following the launch commentators pointed out that it is incredible to write a book on that subject virtually without mentioning the environment. The authors said they had chosen not to consider the environmental issue, as they wanted only to focus only on the industrial challenges. As a woman it is tempting to simply dismiss the book as yet another proof that men are not able to handle two lines of thought at the same time.

However, my second line of thought takes the authors seriously. Reve said to the daily newspaper ‘Aftenposten’ that he worried the environmental question would totally dominate if included. If the authors can not deal with it behind the desk, how are their advises going to be of use to people dealing with these questions in real life – where the environment is indisputably present with all its aspects?

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