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Interview

with Leif Johan Sevland, Mayor, City of Stavanger

31.03.2009 / Energyboardroom

Stavanger is well-known for being Norway’s oil and gas centre, but was also named as European Culture Capital for 2008. By way of introduction, please tell us about your city.

Stavanger is a very vibrant and energetic city. As the major centre of oil and gas in Norway, Stavanger represents a very international society and also likes to focus on the importance of culture. Of course, what culture means to the industry is that people like to come here to live and stay, but of course culture actually means for the people how we can develop ourselves through words, music, and different aspects. During 2008, as the European Culture Capital, it was certainly not the worst year to be the mayor of Stavanger. We had a lot of fun and different events, but what we said when we opened the year on the 12th of January was that this was not going to be an episode, it was going to be an epoch – in the same way as when we became the oil capital of Norway in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, we said “when you choose Stavanger it will be a long-lasting”, and what the city is doing in the aspect of culture is just the same. Now that 2008 is over, Stavanger has begun preparing the next epoch, building a brand new concert hall for around 1.3 billion NOK, investing in a variety of festivals, a new cinema, and many new cultural attractions. Stavanger would ultimately like to be a city with a very strong focus, energy, and vibrancy, as an international destination where people are pleased to live and be and therefore attractive to people from all over the world to come, be based, and settle down.

The city is moving ahead and doing many unexpected things. For example, although we have many beautiful white houses, and while we like to keep the city in good shape and could paint them every year instead of every two years and be even whiter, we want to do unexpected things as well. If you’ve been around in the city, you’ll notice Broken Column, a sculpture project for the Rogaland Museum of Fine Arts consisting of 23 pieces of art all around the city, from swimming holes to parking garages to schools, private homes, and the fish market. This is just one initiative to make sure people know Stavanger is a nice city to be in with lots of things happening. Today, approximately 15% of the population is born outside Norway, with UK being the number one source. We have three international schools, and the population of people from all over the world is growing rapidly.

Stavanger would also like to strengthen its ties with other cities abroad. The first moment of understanding outside the energy sector occurred with the city of Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. We have tried to learn from them and are working quite closely together to see how they developed their city. Ironically, Stavanger’s big challenge is a very strong economy and low unemployment, and to transform the city while growing. Many cities, such as Bilbao, transformed during hard times and needed drastic changes. Stavanger on the other hand must do things differently while still growing to make even better conditions. The statistics are already encouraging: unemployment at 1.3%, population growth in the city at 1.9% and in the urban area at 3.1%, and a young population accounting for 50% of Norway’s oil and gas workforce.

What are the biggest issues in terms of oil and gas facing Stavanger?

Of course, Stavanger has a world-class industry, and it’s very important that the industry grows in other regions outside the North Sea. Internationalization of our industry is extremely important, and that’s the reason why this year we have 150 SMEs at OTC in Houston, and conduct many different trade missions to establish international contacts and ensure if there are new markets emerging, Norway will be there first. There are so many first class companies focused on technology in the NCS and it’s important to export.

Another important issue is maximizing the business opportunities here on the NCS. Having sufficient acreage, areas opened up that are interesting for oil companies, creating good working conditions in the aspects of tax and long-term thinking, while not forgetting the very strong focus on research and enhanced oil recovery. It’s unbelievable to see the Ekofisk field today and imagine how much oil we have extracted compared to what was expected. This of course will rely on using public money for institutions, universities, and research associations, to find solutions to get even more oil and gas out of the fields. And, if we learn to do it in one field in Norway, it’s possible to export that knowledge to other places around the world.

In attracting those international companies to set up in Stavanger, what are the main messages you want to send?

Stavanger is a good place to be. It’s politically stable, and although perhaps “high tax”, companies know that coming in, and the rules don’t change. Being in Stavanger represents long-term thinking. We have good health, welfare, international schools, and housing, and thus attract people to be part of a very important industry. When people come, they want to come back.

There is much talk about Norway’s eventual shift from “petroleum nation” to “energy nation” – what does this imply for Stavanger?

The University of Houston has made a fascinating graph about this subject, demonstrating a typical drilling tower attached by bridge to a windmill, which will encompass solar, wave, and different kinds of oil energy, spanning the entire spectrum. Thankfully, even between diverse energy sources, there’s a lot of technology in common. Many of the shipyards constructing for the North Sea are more than ready to start building windmills, and much of the technology used in traditional petroleum industries could be transferred to others. In this regard, we must use the experience built up in the petroleum industry to build a bridge to the renewables industry. I’m quite sure that oil and gas will remain important to the world’s energy situation for a long long time, but we would also like to have a strong focus on renewable energy, because it’s important for the world to make sure future generations will have a good place to live. Stavanger has been working quite closely to Houston, and has seen how they approach renewable energy, about the situation in West Texas with windmills, but also the focus Mayor of Houston has on renewable energy. This runs the gamut from private houses which are using less energy, to even the stoplights in Houston powered by solar energy. Although this latter example probably won’t save the world alone, it’s one seen every day. As a very visible example, it makes you think, “If they can do it, we can do it.”

Stavanger is ready to take the same position in renewable energies as with fossil fuels, while knowing we must carefully balance the energy mix. Although fossil fuels will remain important for the foreseeable future, we know we will have to be the cleanest oil and gas producer in the world, and we are probably able to do that. Today, at least 95% of the energy used at the City Hall is from renewable hydroelectricity, so we’re used to it here, and ready for a next move. Sometimes we have sun, but mostly we have a lot of wind, and I think what’s most interesting for Stavanger is offshore windmills. In the southern part of Norway, in the areas between Stavanger and Kristiansand, there are many opportunities not so far away from the very important market of Germany which has a huge energy need, in addition to the UK and Denmark.

As a final message to OGFJ readers about Stavanger and your future prospects, what would you like them to know about the city?

Stavanger is an open port for people. It’s actually a place where you can come, settle down, and enjoy for the rest of your life. It’s a place where we respect each other, and live close to one another, regardless of individual origins. We have an open mind for people from all over the world, and there’s also a very good business climate. On one side, you’re able to work very closely with others and be a good human being, and on the other it’s a good place to earn money. Just circling the city for 20 minutes you’ll meet so many people in the energy sector, among one of the most concentrated energy hubs in the world. It’s easy to meet people, in a relaxed atmosphere, and that’s the way it should be. Welcome to Stavanger.

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