Art on Draugen

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
An oil platform is not only a workplace composed of steel piping, tanks and process facilities. It also serves as living quarters where many people are in residence for weeks at a time.
— Art hanging on the wall. Photo: Shadé Barka Martins/Norwegian Ptroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

To encourage well-being and create a good atmosphere on Draugen, a commitment was made to light, open, well-ordered and aesthetically designed rooms with artworks to please the eye.

Architect Bernt Brekke coordinated work on the decor. Together with the rest of the architectural team, he produced a profile of how the platform should function in terms of decoration and furnishing. This included determining the artistic expression each of the public rooms should convey.

Since Shell wanted to make the maximum possible use of mid-Norwegian sources in building and operating Draugen, the Møre og Romsdal Art Centre (MRKS) was commissioned to manage the decor.

That followed six months of meetings and presentations between Sissel Hagerup Heggdal, head of the MRKS, Shell and Kværner Engineering, which was project manager for the platform topsides.

This was the first time the art centre had been responsible for adorning an offshore platform, and Heggdal and her artists quickly discovered they all had to relate to a new “language” and a world where efficiency and speed were key terms.

Rooms differed greatly in their design and purpose. The artists also had to come up with new techniques to satisfy requirements for evacuation routes and fire regulations. The platform’s living quarters included a library, lounge, pool room, gymnasium and mess, which were all to have their own artistic embellishment.
Interiors throughout were decorated in light and pleasant colours, with furniture and fittings of the best design and quality.

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Gjertrud Hals created an artwork tailored to the 21-metre-high stairwell. Photo: A/S Norske Shell/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Gjertrud Hals from Aukra and Bergen-based Elly Prestegård won to the two biggest assignments for artistic decoration on the platform. Hals is a fibre artist who has developed her own technique based on paper, print, spray-painting and braiding. She created an artwork tailored to the 21-metre-high stairwell, which extended over five stories. Her starting point was the mediaeval poem Völuspà on the role of the volve (sibyl) and her prophecies in Norse mythology, and she incorporated several of its texts in her piece. The whole creation was encased in laminated plastic before installation.

Prestegård was responsible for the sky lobby, and is thereby the first artist to welcome the platform workers after their helicopter has landed on the platform.

Only one room in the living quarters is open to personnel in work clothes. The “dirty coffee bar” allows them to take a break without having to remove boiler suits and protective footwear. Its furniture is in steel and the interior can be hosed down. Anita Vik Wætten was responsible for its artistic embellishment and her watercolours are laminated onto Formica boards.

Søssa Magnus from Oslo and Notodden’s Steinar Klasbu were allowed to exercise their talents in the mess, while Roddy Bell from Bergen chose big human figures in physical activity to decorate the gym.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Sissel Hagerup Heggdal (1993).Kystens flytende gallerier. Årbok for Romsdalsmuseet og Fiskerimuseet på Hjertøya: 148-154.

Published March 20, 2018   •   Updated September 3, 2018
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Waste sorting on Draugen

person By Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Platform construction and installation is not the only source of offshore waste. Day-to-day operation also generates both hazardous refuse and much ordinary detritus, sent ashore for sorting and deposition.
— Waste managment at Draugen. Photo: A/S Norske Shell/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Shell was the first operator on the Norwegian continental shelf to introduce waste sorting when Draugen came on stream, closely followed by Conoco on the Heidrun field.

Green focus

Kildesortering på draugen,
Illustration: A/S Norske Shell

Norske Shell had long been paying attention to the environment. This concern focused in the 1980s on production processes and limiting waste, but a shift occurred in the following decade towards products and ways of reducing consumption.

Goals for the company were to ensure acceptable disposal, while also minimising refuse-related costs through optimal sorting offshore and contributing to a system for reducing, reusing and recycling waste.

Employees were asked to concentrate on three areas – avoiding hazardous organic solvents, reducing the use of one-off items and preferring products which left returnable waste where possible.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Shell Internt, no 1, 1994, “Fokus på miljø”.

Extensive use of environment-friendly products represented one aspect of this commitment, but reducing consumption was considered equally important. A simple system for sorting waste based on separating it into different containers was instituted by Norske Shell on the Draugen platform from the start.

kildesortering åp draugen, hagelin, avisutklipp, engelsk
Hagelin becomes a recycling center. Tidens Krav 09.02.1990

This proved both protective of the environment and cost-saving. Waste sorting was also introduced to the Kristiansund operations office at Råket and to Vestbase. Separating refuse in this way was pursued in collaboration with Renovasjon Nord AS,[REMOVE]Fotnote: Renord AS was its official name initially. a new privately owned waste-handling company in Kristiansund. The latter became a Norwegian environmental pioneer in 1990 when it built a recovery plant for industrial waste at Hagelin in its home town.

While a number of countries in continental Europe had already begun sorting such refuse, the infrastructure for doing so in Norway was poorly developed.

The Renovasjon Nord plant accepted all forms of industrial detritus – paper, plastic, wood, glass, cardboard and metals – and was based on manual sorting. These materials were sent to various recipients in Norway, Sweden and Finland for recycling.

Although starting with industrial waste, the company entered into an agreement with Kristiansund local authority which allowed the latter to introduce waste sorting in the autumn of 1990.

The sorting project was tested out on West Vanguard, the rig drilling subsea wells on Draugen, before being adopted on the field. This trial proved a success. Underlying the move was the hope of saving NOK 1-1.5 million through waste sorting – combining environmental concerns with financial benefits.

kildesorteringen på draugen, engelsk
Containers and bins makes recycling easy on Draugen. Photo: Shadé B. Martins/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Good timing

With interest in waste treatment and sorting growing among ordinary people and politicians in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Norske Shell and the Draugen organisation timed this initiative well.

kildesortering på draugen, forsidebilde, avfallshåndtering, engelsk
Illustration: A/S Norske Shell

“Sustainable development” entered common parlance in 1987 when it was introduced in a report from the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development. This concept indicated that global development had to meet people’s current needs but avoid undermining opportunities for future generations.

The Norwegian government rose to the challenge and appointed a commission of inquiry to address such issues as how to minimise waste.

That covered reducing refuse at source as well as reuse and recovery of materials, while also minimising demands on society’s resources for waste handling and treatment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 44 (1991-1992) to the Storting: Om tiltak for reduserte avfallsmengder, økt gjenvinning og forsvarlig avfallsbehandling. Oslo, Ministry of the Environment.

A Norwegian official report (NOU) on waste minimisation and recycling appeared in the autumn of 1990.[REMOVE]Fotnote: NOU 1990: 28: Avfallsminimering og gjenvinning. Oslo, Ministry of the Environment, 3 December 1990. It marked the first overall assessment of these issues presented to the Storting (parliament).[REMOVE]Fotnote: Recommendation no 56 (1991-92) to the Storting: Innstilling fra kommunal- og miljøvernkomiteen om tiltak for reduserte avfallsmengder, økt gjenvinning og forsvarlig avfallsbehandling (Report no 44 (1991-92) to the Storting).

In 1990, the latter resolved that all local authorities in Norway would be required to draw up a plan for waste sorting by 1992.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 44 (1991-1992) to the Storting: Om tiltak for reduserte avfallsmengder, økt gjenvinning og forsvarlig avfallsbehandling. Oslo, Ministry of the Environment.

kildesortering på draugen, kontor, engelsk,
Recycling of different types of cardboard and plastic outside the office area. Photo: Shadé B. Martins/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Increased awareness of issues related to refuse, resource use and the environment was also reflected in the media, and leading Oslo daily Aftenposten ran a series on the “environmental office”.

Appearing in the summer of 1992, this tested attitudes and actions among chief executives in large Norwegian companies – what had they done or not done to make daily life more environmentally conscious at Norwegian workplaces. The sort of questions asked was whether waste paper was sorted, whether single-use or multi-use cups were provided for coffee and whether pens were throwaway or refillable.

Local authority plans for waste sorting were followed up by the Pollution Control Act of 1993, which again called for local councils to prepare waste plans by 31 December 1993. The government’s aim was that waste should cause as little harm and inconvenience to people and nature as possible, while costing a minimum to deal with.

When choosing between reduction choices, in other words, preventive measures would take precedence over recycling and environmentally acceptable final treatment.

The principal government strategy was to prevent waste arising, reduce the quantity of hazardous substances, promote recycling and ensure that ultimate treatment was acceptable.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Gjerde, Kristin Øye (2015): Sprenger grenser. Vann, avløp og renovasjon i regionens tjeneste: 105.


kildesortering på draugen, kjøkken, engelsk,
By the dishwashing area food wasste, plastic bottles and aluminium cans are recycled. Photo: Shadé B. Martins/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

So waste sorting was not an unfamiliar concept in the early 1990s, but Norske Shell and its Draugen organisation were nevertheless pioneering industrial adopters of this approach.

They can largely thank Renovasjon Nord for this. The company saw the potential of rubbish at an early stage and built land plants for its satisfactory treatment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Shell Internt, no 2 1993, “Milliongevinst for Shell”. It was both the first and the largest Norwegian specialist in handing waste from the offshore sector.

Published March 20, 2018   •   Updated October 17, 2018
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Reorganising emergency responsibility

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Overall responsibility for emergency response on Draugen and the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) between 62°N and 65°30’N lay with Kristiansund’s police commissioner from the mid-1980s. But no longer.
— Offshore operations are very visible from Kristiansund. Photo: Kurt Helge Røsand/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

The government proposed a new police reform in 2013 which included merging the Nordmøre and Romsdal district with Sunnmøre, with the commissioner moving from Kristiansund to Ålesund.

These plans prompted outrage in Nordmøre and added fuel to the flames of an old local government dispute which has created and continues to maintain dissension in Møre og Romsdal county.

Offshore preparedness

The presence of both Shell and Statoil has helped to propel Kristiansund to the status of the oil centre for this part of Norway. Responsibility for emergency preparedness in the area of the NCS lying roughly between Ålesund to the south and Brønnøysund in the north lay in the town for some three decades.

This region includes such fields as Draugen, Ormen Lange, Åsgard and Njord, as well as the Tjeldbergodden and Nyhamna gas facilities on land. Nordmøre and Romsdal was one on four police districts along the coast responsible for strategic and operational leadership of any incidents arising on an offshore installation.

The others were Rogaland for the NCS south of the 62nd parallel, Helgeland between 65°30’N and 68°30’N and Troms above 68°30’N and the seas outside Svalbard’s territorial waters. Rogaland police district, embracing Stavanger, has also been required to provide assistance in investigating major oil-related incidents above 62°N.[REMOVE]Fotnote: National Police Directorate (2011): PBS 1. Politiets beredskapssystem, del 1. Retningslinjer for politiets beredskap, 103.

Police responsibility

The commissioner is responsible for the exercise of all police powers within their offshore area, and for the commitment of resources required to discharge duties on the NCS. They are also responsible for any post-response investigation.

In addition to preparing an updated plan for offshore emergency response, the offshore police district collaborates with the armed forces in exercises. It maintains contacts with the operator companies and sees to it that they also understand their functions during an actual incident.

The police are also charged with established reception facilities on land in the event of a possible evacuation following an offshore incident. They must keep in regular contact with the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), and have investigating officers with expertise on matters relating to petroleum operations.

Finally, each offshore police district must have service personnel with specialist knowledge for taking over an installation after a possible action phase.

Police reform

The number of Norwegian police districts was reduced from 27 to 12 on 1 January 2016 in what has been called the “close policing” reform.

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, kart, illustrasjon, engelsk,
map over the 12 police districts in Norway

After Nordmøre and Romsdal was merged with Sunnmøre, as noted above, the National Police Directorate (NPD) wanted the headquarters of the Møre and Romsdal district moved to Ålesund. That came as no surprise. This is the county’s largest town and lies midway between Bergen and Trondheim. The NPD also maintained that it also had the biggest recruitment base. But the question then was where responsibility for petroleum-related incidents off the Møre and Trøndelag coasts should lie.

The government wanted the NCS split between two police districts – south-west run from Stavanger and north from Tromsø – but failed to secure Storting (parliamentary) support.

Offshore responsibility was to continue to be divided between four police districts. But would this remain in Kristiansund or follow the police commissioner to Ålesund? Kristiansund and its hinterland mobilised vigorously to retain the police commissioner and responsibility for offshore emergency preparedness.

A number of consultation responses emphasised the extensive response collaboration built up in the town over 30 years, which made it easy to mobilise resources and expertise. In the event of accidents, moreover, Kristiansund had offshore expertise, a heliport and plans for taking care of possible injured personnel.

This interaction with the offshore industry’s emergency response resources was regarded as significant for the police’s ability to discharge its NCS duties.

In the event of an incident, the companies could quickly install their liaison officers at the police station. This physical presence was important for optimal coordination.

Although the police had and have specialised expertise on petroleum activities, they depend on supplementary knowledge from the industry when accidents occur offshore or at land plants.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Consultation: Norwegian Official Reports (NOU) 2013:9 Ett politi – rustet til å møte fremtidens utfordringer. Comments from Kristiansund local authority and KOM Vekst (Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum) of 3 October 2013; Nordmøre and Romsdal police district of 4 September 2013; Orkide (assembly of council chair and local authority chief administrators in Nordmøre) of 2 October 2013.

The fear was that moving the police commissioner and thereby offshore responsibility would mean a critical loss of special expertise, reduced efficiency, loss of time and increased costs.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Inderhaug, Erik (2016): “Hvordan skal politiet sikre denne?” Politiforum. (published 27 January 2016, downloaded 9 January 2018).

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, engelsk
Shell's headquarter in Kristiansund. Photo: Heine Schjølberg/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

A transfer to Ålesund might sunder strategic and operational leadership in the police from the other response teams for offshore operations.

Staying in Kristiansund would mean that, within a few minutes of an incident on Draugen, the police could be physically present in the second-line response at Norske Shell’s Råket facility. For their part, Ålesund’s supporters argued that emergency response would related in most cases to a serious event which required the police to establish a crisis team.

Where this was led from would be a secondary consideration. The specialist team in Kristiansund could deal with offshore emergency preparedness regardless of where the commissioner sat.

Norske Shell wanted the police in Kristiansund to retain responsibility for offshore preparedness, and responded to the consultation even though it was not formally invited to comment. The company stressed the good collaboration its emergency preparedness team had with the Nordmøre and Romsdal district’s offshore division, and the importance of maintaining this.

It also complained over the lack of specific details on how important considerations were to be handled if the headquarters were transferred to Ålesund.

“Our experience is that the understanding of oil sector processes, planning, emergency organisation and industry terminology enshrined in the operations centre, staff functions and operative response leadership has been positive for handling and investigating incidents on the NCS,” Shell stated.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Inderhaug, Erik (2016): “Hvordan skal politiet sikre denne?” Politiforum. (published 27 January 2016, downloaded 9 January 2018).

“Such expertise is built up through good communication and joint training. We would have wished to see a clarification of how this is envisaged in the future.”

Jobs too

Kristiansund has called on a number of occasions for more government and public sector jobs, and this was highlighted in the consultation response from the Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum (KOM Vekst).

The latter noted that Ålesund and Molde had received 190 and 139 new central government and county council jobs respectively in 2009-13, while the figure for Kristiansund was one.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Consultation: NOU 2013:9 Ett politi – rustet til å møte fremtidens utfordringer ­– KOM Vekst (Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum) of 3 October 2013.

When the town lost out to Molde in the fight over the Nordmøre and Romsdal hospital, the future for many expertise-based jobs vanished from the region.

Against that backdrop, the issue of the police commissioner’s headquarters generated strong feelings in Nordmøre. This involved not only emergency preparedness, but also local employment.

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, nyhet, engelsk,
From the newsfeed of Ministry of Justice and Public Security's webpage

The outcome was that the police commissioner post was transferred to Ålesund together with a substantial number of jobs. A government decision to locate the police pay and accounting centre, with 70 employees, to Kristiansund was therefore perceived as a form of compensation.

That was denied by justice minister Anders Anundsen, who claimed that the move formed part of a 2016 agreement with the Liberal Party on decentralisation of government employment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Written question from Ingrid Heggø (Labour) to the minister of justice and emergency preparedness. Storting, document no 15:1539 (2015-2016), 9 September 2016.

It quickly became clear that the town would only be getting 50 new jobs, since another department located in Stavanger was taking over part of the police pay function.

To compensate for the “loss” of the 20 promised posts, an equal number of additional jobs were created at the Kristiansund tax office. According to the council, the extra employment more than compensated for the reduction in police posts.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kristiansund – information publication from Kristiansund local authority. No 7, July 2017.

Published March 20, 2018   •   Updated October 18, 2018
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Kvernberget – crucial for a future in oil

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Kristiansund won the mid-Norwegian struggle over involvement in offshore operations. Many years of intensive work gained it the role as base and later operations centre for parts of the oil industry in the Norwegian Sea. A key requirement was an airport.
— Vestbase and Kristiansund airport Kvernberget. Photo: Harald M. Walderhaug/A/S Norske Shell
© Norsk Oljemuseum

But the latter did not just happen, either. Securing this facility called for a lengthy battle which began in the late 1950s and led to eventual triumph on 30 June 1970.

The port of Kristiansund is spread over several islands and lacked a road connection to the mainland until 1992. Entering or leaving the region was a long and complicated business until the airport came.

To get to Oslo, locals had to take the bus to Åndalsnes via three ferry crossing and then take the train – a journey of at least 12 hours at best. This lack of infrastructure was long an obstacle to economic development in the town, which lies in the western county of Møre og Romsdal.

A cautious start – without Kristiansund

Kristiansund was not the only Norwegian town to be late taking to the air. Norway ranked in 1930 as one of the few European countries without national aviation services.

With flying confined almost entirely to the armed forces, not a single civilian airport existed on land before 1937 – even though the first aviation commission had been appointed by the government as early as 1918.

This body studied opportunities for establishing regular passenger and mail services. The goal was to create four domestic trunk routes to supplement the existing communications network.

One of these was a west Norwegian service linking Stavanger, Bergen, Ålesund and Trondheim. Since no airfields existed on land, all civil aviation would have to be based on seaplanes.

Among the measures taken was a trial route between Stavanger, Haugesund and Bergen in August 1920, but this was discontinued owing to a lack of passengers, mail and revenues.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Gynnild, Olav (2005). “Begynnelsen, 1905-1940”. Norsk Luftfart gjennom 100 år. Norwegian Aviation Museum: 20. Nor was there any popular demand for flying as a means of transport.

A new aviation commission was not appointed until 1930, with a mandate to define relevant domestic and foreign services. It nevertheless concluded that air travel was an uncertain form of communication and that seaplane bases should not be built by the government nor year-round services established.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 7.

Saw the opportunities

Four years later, in 1934, the Storting (parliament) changed tack and decided that the government should prepare a national plan for airports and seaplane bases. State funds would also be devoted to building the latter.

The new airport plan adopted by the Storting in 1936 called for the rapid development of a domestic air traffic network which would benefit as many people as possible.

This national scheme reflected a new attitude about the way aviation could help to develop Norway, both economically and culturally.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 8.

Two mail and passenger services were established, with one following a circular route from Oslo to Bergen, Haugesund, Stavanger, Kristiansand and back to the capital.

The other, which is more interesting in this context, flew between Bergen and Tromsø via Ålesund, Kristiansund, Trondheim, Brønnøysund, Sandnessjøen, Bodø, Svolvær, Narvik and Harstad. Kristiansund thereby obtained its first air link.

With two mail routes also established in northern Norway, these services were primarily intended to carry post but took some passengers as well. However, fares were high and the new transport system was not for the ordinary Norwegian. It still relied solely on seaplanes, which could only operate in the summer and when weather permitted. In other words, this was not a full air service.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kristiansund Airport Kvernberget. Documentation for archival conservation. 2010: 8

Airports on land

A lack of commitment to aviation by central government prompted several local authorities to take action on their own account, with Stavanger as the pioneer.
In the spring of 1933, the recently founded Stavanger Flying Club raised the issue of an airport for this south-western city. Its construction would provide many jobs in a region plagued by high unemployment.

Norway acquired its first civil aviation facility on land when Stavanger Airport Sola opened officially on 29 May 1937. Oslo Airport Fornebu and Kristiansand Airport Kjevik followed two years later.

All three were established by local authority initiative, and run by their respective city councils. But then came the Second World War, and all civil aviation halted.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 22.

Civil air services were restored on a smaller scale after the war. A seaplane route between Bergen and Trondheim via Ålesund and Kristiansund was established in 1948. A similar service followed in 1951, which also included a landing in Molde. Round trips were flown three times a week, but only in summer season and when the weather permitted. These services were withdrawn in 1958.

Kristiansunds tidligere historie, engelsk,
William Dall chaired the local authority communication committee for 15 years and the Kristiansund airport committee for 10. He chaired the petroleum committee in 1970-80, and then became the local authority’s first oil consultant. Dall also led the XU espionage organisation in Kristiansund during the war. Photo: Romsdalsposten/Nordmøre Museum

That followed a government declaration in the budget that state aid would no longer be given to seaplane services in western Norway, including the one to Kristiansund.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Romsdalsposten, 5 March 1983. “Da regjeringen sa nei til sjøruten for 25 år siden: Viktig skritt mot flyplass i Kr.sund”.

This announcement caused concern throughout the Romsdal and northern Møre districts. It also prompted Kristiansund and local figure William Dall to take action.
“I see no other alternative than concentrating all our forces on securing the construction of the airport at Kvernberget as soon as possible,” Dall said in March 1958 in his capacity as chair of the town’s communication committee.

Dall had sat on all the county council committees which worked on this question since 1946, and he and others had already pursued the airport issue for many years. And many more were to pass before success was achieved. Dall later became the first chair of Kristiansund’s petroleum committee (see the article on xxx).

The central government now began seriously to intensify work on a national trunk network. Aero-engineering had made great strides during the war, when a number of military airfields were also built in Norway.

According to the main 1949 report from the aviation commission on developing airports and seaplane bases, Møre og Romsdal was to be served by the Gossen military airfield in Nord-Aukra, not far from Molde. It had been built by the occupying Germans in 1943.

Before the war, Vigra outside Ålesund had been proposed at the future hub airport. But the commission felt this option would be too expensive compared with upgrading Gossen.

The national aviation plan was approved by the Storting on 10 June 1952, but the Gossen proposal received little support in either Ålesund or Kristiansund.
This location was too far from both northern and southern ends of the county, and therefore of little value. Both towns therefore launched efforts to find alternative sites in their vicinity.

At its own initiative and expense, Ålesund began developing the airport at Vigra with a full 1 600-metre runway. It applied to the government in 1957 to get 75 per cent of the cost refunded, with the state taking over operation as soon as construction ended.

This reignited the debate about airport placement, and the ministry now proposed Vigra as a hub at the expense of Gossen. Central government refunded much of the bill and took over Vigra as soon as it opened on 7 June 1958.

Its completion was a key element in the government’s decision to cease funding the west Norwegian seaplane services. Their basis disappeared with the construction of airports in Stavanger, Bergen, Ålesund and Trondheim.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kristiansund Airport Kvernberget. Documentation for archival conservation. 2010.
Now it was the turn of Kristiansund and Molde to mobilise. The northernmost parts of Møre og Romsdal remained a backwater in communication terms. It took five hours to drive from Kristiansund to Vigra, with several ferry crossings.
Both towns represented large population concentrations and both wanted an airport for their own districts. Old animosities between rival bailiwicks flared up again.

As early as 1955, the county council’s highways committee had recommended Kvernberget as an airstrip for small aircraft along with Vigra and Gossen.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Bergens Tidende, 18 June 1955. “Småflyplassene i Møre og Romsdal”.
Just four months later, however, it emerged that developing the planned facility outside Kristiansund would be too expensive, with major blasting and infill operations required.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Aftenposten, 18 October 1955. “Flyplassene for ruten Bergen-Trondheim over Møre blir planlagt”.

Work begins

As noted above, the Kristiansund town council was determined to secure its own airport and launched systematic efforts to achieve this.

It appointed an airport committee in 1959, with Dall as chair. To secure the necessary land, the council also purchased 53.7 hectares at Kvernberget.
Domestic air services still played a relatively modest role in Norway’s overall transport system in the 1960s.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 32 They were utilised almost entirely for long-distance passenger traffic, accounting for one per cent of total transport activity and two per cent of personal travel.

The Labour government appointed a new airport commission in 1962 to plan the future trunk network for aviation in Norway. A key issue was the infrastructure in Møre og Romsdal and whether airports should be built for both Molde and Kristiansund.[REMOVE]Fotnote: The recommendations on further development of the airport network were submitted in 1964.

The airport commission considered Henda on Averøy and Gossen. While Henda is only 30 kilometres from Kristiansund, it would have been a poor choice for the northern Møre port without a bridge.

Both sites were found to represent an unfavourable location, with the commission concluding that neither should be developed as a joint airport for northern Møre and Romsdal.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 78.

On the other hand, it decided that two other potential projects occupied a special position – Kvernberget and Årø outside Molde. The latter had the biggest traffic base and was the cheapest. But Kristiansund’s airport committee had worked well to document the necessity of an airport for the town.

In addition to acquiring the necessary land, the local council had prepared a detailed design for a Kvernberget installation in cooperation with the Norwegian Directorate of Aviation.

Molde had secured land, too, although only half the required acreage, and wanted to expropriate the remainder. This project had also been designed in detail.
The challenge for this town was that the built-up area had expanded in the direction of Årø, and aircraft noise could therefore become a nuisance for relatively many residents.

In its 1964 report, the commission decided that airports would be needed in both Kristiansund and Molde. An overall assessment, with particular emphasis on commercial and social aspects, found that Kvernberget should be given the highest priority.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ministry of Transport and Communication, 16 December 1964. Recommendations on further development of an airport network. Report from the airport commission of 1962: 80.

Both Årø and Kvernberget represented good options, but Kristiansund had greater communication difficulties than Molde. It and Evenes in northern Norway were given top priority, with Molde in third place.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 89 to the Storting (1965-66). Domestic civil aviation etc.
Although this conclusion was clear, the aviation directorate produced its own recommendation that Årø should be developed first because of the bigger traffic potential.

A new round of assessments followed. The transport ministry returned to the possibility of a joint solution, and wanted a fresh study of the Henda project. That meant a further postponement of the decision Kristiansund was waiting for. This aroused disappointment and anger both there and in Molde.

The action committee for an airport at Kvernberget urged people in the town and district to raise the national flag at half-mast in protest against the ministry’s announcement.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Adresseavisen, 5 March 1992. “I dag for 25 år siden”.

New studies were produced, but the Storting voted on 2 April 1968 for Kvernberget airport and for the construction work to begin immediately.[REMOVE]

Kristiansunds tidligere historie, engelsk,
William Dall, second from left, and transport minister Håkon Kyllingmark, third from left, on an inspection visit during the construction of Kvernberget airport. Photo: Romsdalsposten/Nordmøre Museum

Fotnote: Report no 34 to the Storting (1967-68). On the hub airport network in northern Møre and Romsdal, etc.

Kristiansund Airport Kvernberget was built by the aviation directorate in close collaboration with the town council. That differed from the Vigra development, where Ålesund council took the initiative and carried out the construction work itself.

Official opening

When Crown Prince Harald performed the official opening of Kristiansund Airport Kvernberget on 30 June 1970, an important addition to the town’s infrastructure had been put in place.

Traffic at Kvernberget hit a record in 1971, but fell after Molde Airport Årø opened the following year. The global oil crisis in 1973 contributed to a continued decline in passenger numbers.

In 1975, the Storting approved the government’s proposal that Kristiansund should serve as the main supply base for the oil industry in mid-Norway.
The continental shelf north of the 62nd parallel was opened for exploration drilling in 1979, calling for a heliport to handle air travel to and from rigs working on the Halten Bank.

Work on this facility started at Kvernberget just after Easter 1980, and was completed in 1982.[REMOVE]Fotnote: [?], 31 May 1980. “Helikopterbase klar til bruk fra 1. juni”. A dedicated helicopter terminal opened in 1992. (See the article on the heliport at Kvernberget).

New strife

A fresh airport battle broke out in 1988 between the towns in Møre og Romsdal in connection with the Krifast project to link Kristiansund with the mainland by road.
A number of people felt this removed the need for two airports in northern Møre and Romsdal, since the drive from Kristiansund to Molde would be reduced to less than an hour. In their view, it was necessary to choose between Årø and Kvernberget.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Sunnmørsposten, 11 September 1989. “Flyplasskrig”.

Arild Rypdal, airport manager for Møre og Romsdal and the Trøndelag region, told the media that northern Møre and Romsdal should be satisfied with one airport and that “as the structure is now, Kvernberget would be the natural choice”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Romsdal Budstikke, 21 May 1988. “Kvernberget flyplass før Molde”.

He believed that services to the county’s three small airports were inadequate, and that Møre og Romsdal was a loser from this division. Two medium-sized airports would be better.

His preference for Kvernberget primarily reflected the oil industry’s presence, with this airport already experiencing a big increase in offshore-related traffic. Shell was also due to open its Kristiansund operations office for Draugen in 1992, the same year Krifast opened, and the field would come on stream in 1993. An airport in the immediate vicinity was crucial for the oil and gas sector.

But Rypdal’s comments prompted a reaction from Molde mayor Ragnar Heggdal. He was unable to see how anyone could propose the closure of Årø. “If we’re going to shut down airports, we must in any event begin with those with the smallest traffic,” he maintained,[REMOVE]Fotnote: Romsdal Budstikke, 21 May 1988. “Storflyplass på Gossen”. making a clear reference to Kvernberget.

As an alternative, he shook the dust off the old idea of an airport for the whole county at Gossen. With an effective transport service and communication system, it would be at a reasonable distance from Kristiansund, Molde and Ålesund.
Nevertheless, none of the three airports were affected once the Krifast project had been completed.

Kvernberget became the growth factor for the Kristiansund area which everyone had hoped for.[REMOVE]Fotnote: While it helped to bring the oil sector to the town, its survival and the growth in its passenger numbers depended crucially on this industry.

Published March 20, 2018   •   Updated October 2, 2018
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Shell in Norway

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Shell’s history in Norway began long before oil was discovered on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), with Norsk-Engelsk Mineralolie Aktieselskab (Nemak) established as a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell as early as 1912.
— Nemaks tankanlegg i Svolvær. I tillegg var det mindre anlegg for Mobil og Esso rundt sentrumshavna. Foto: Ukjent, CC BY 4.0,
© Norsk Oljemuseum

This company acquired a tank farm at Nesodden outside Oslo, launching what was to become A/S Norske Shell. It expanded with coastal depots and service stations along the whole coast.

Norske Shell has experienced huge progress, from delivering lamp oil by horse and cart to today’s high-tech production of gas from waters almost 1 000 metres deep.

Getting going

Established only five years earlier, in 1907, the Royal Dutch/Shell group was seeking new markets worldwide for its branded products.

Its entry to Norway came when Indian Refining Company[REMOVE]Fotnote: Indian Refining Company was an American oil firm which operated from the first decade of the 20th century until 2 April 1943. went bust before the tank farm it had built at Granerudstøen on the Nesodden peninsula could even become operational.

Together with two Norwegian partners, Shell formed Nemak to take over the facility. This was perfectly positioned on a good harbour in a sheltered fjord close to Oslo (then known as Kristiania). It was the company’s main import channel to Norway for many years.

Shell was not alone in viewing Norway as an attractive market, and several oil companies had established themselves there in the early 20th century. They bought petroleum from the USA or Romania for distribution around the country.

During the second half of the 19th century, paraffin lamps had become the dominant form of lighting for most Norwegians. Gas lights were only found in a few large towns, and electricity did not become a serious option until around 1910.

Refined from crude oil, paraffin imports rose steadily from the 1880s and right up to the 1920s. Moreover, lube oil shipments from abroad increased as machinery became more widespread in industry and transport.

Petroleum imports were started by individuals or small companies which included these products among the commodities they traded.

One was wholesaler Fredrik Sundt, who became Norway’s biggest paraffin importer in his day. His house in Oslo was nicknamed “Villa Parafina”, and is now the government’s official residence.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Parkveien 45 used to be the prime minister’s official residence, but has not functioned as such since 1907. Francis Hagerup was the first premier to live there from 19896, and was followed by the first prime ministers after Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905. Starting with Wilhelm Christophersen in 1908, however, the building became the official residence of the foreign minister, and Johannes Irgens lived there throughout his time in this office from 1910-13.

Another was Adolf Øien. Together with his friend, Ingebrigt Wahl, he established a business in 1876 which specialised in paint, building materials, gunpowder and petroleum.

This range of products was in demand and the pair earned good money from rapidly growing oil imports, building up a distribution system for Norway northwards from Trøndelag.

Americans arrive

Foreign oil companies began to set up shop in Norway during the 1890s, with A/S Vestlandske Petroleumscompagni in Bergen as the first-comer at the start of that decade.

Its founders were leading local businessmen Conrad Mohr, N H Brun and Christian Andreas Irgens plus Denmark’s Det Danske Petroleums Aktieselskab. The latter was part-owned by John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

This was followed three years later, in 1893, by the creation of A/S Østlandske Petroleumscompagni in Oslo through a merger between three small Norwegian oil companies. These were A Hiorth, owned by Andreas R Lind, as well as wholesalers F Mørch-Reiersen and Otto Pedersen, with Det Danske Petroleums Aktieselskap again involved as co-owner.

The Danish company functioned as an intermediary for Standard Oil, and the two Norwegian enterprises merged in 1953 to form Aksjeselskapet Norsk Esso.[REMOVE]Fotnote: National Archival Services of Norway: ExxonMobil 120 år, on the archival services’ website: (Published 3 May 2017, downloaded 9 January 2018)

Norsk Vacuum Oil Company held its statutory general meeting in Oslo during 1918 to conduct trading, an agency business, and production of oil and related products.

But this US firm had been present in Norway since 1898 through sales representatives. Offices selling Vacuum products opened in that year in Bergen, Trondheim and Oslo.

Sales of its lube oils went well, and the large Norwegian merchant fleet was a particularly important market for the company.[REMOVE]Fotnote: National Archival Services of Norway: ExxonMobil 120 år, on the archival services’ website: (Published 3 May 2017, downloaded 9 January 2018)

Own refinery

Established in 1862, Mandal Paraffin Olie Co was Norway’s first oil refinery. Production of lamp oil, paraffin wax and artificial fertiliser based on imported Scottish coal continued until 1874.

While competition from imported oil and declining prices reduced the company’s profitability[REMOVE]Fotnote: Wetting, Olav, Mandal Paraffin Olie Company, at (Publication date unknown, downloaded 9 January 2018), petroleum imports eventually became large enough to lay the basis for another refinery.

A/S Petroleums Maskinolieraffineri built a facility at Vallø outside Tønsberg. This company’s purpose was to import, distil and refine Rumanian crude and semi-processed oil.

However, the new refinery also quickly ran into problems. The technology was poor and achieving profitable operation was difficult.

Paraffin from Vallø could not compete for quality with US products, and the company also failed to produce competitive lube oils. It was wound up in 1905, but operation was taken over by a new firm.

Established that autumn, A/S Vallø Oljeraffineri entered into collaboration with the oil companies in Oslo and Bergen. They would primarily sell and distribute the refinery’s petrol, leaving it to market its other products directly.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Development, adaptation and modernisation continued throughout this period, along with an upgrading of the product range. This eventually included petrol, paraffin, engine oil, lube oils and bitumen. A couple of mergers followed until the whole business ended up as a single company under the name A/S Norske Esso. When this firm entered into an operations agreement with Esso Exploration & Production Inc, it changed its name to the one still used today – Esso Norge AS. (Published 3 May 2017, downloaded 9 January 2018)

During the early years, the refinery produced various types of petrol, white spirit, gas oil, lube oils and asphalt.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Vallø; Verket og menneskene on Miljølære’s website: (Published February 1995, downloaded 9 January 2018)

It was in this climate that Royal Dutch/Shell entered the Norwegian market. Internal combustion engines were introduced to Norway’s fishing fleet around 1904 and their use expanded strongly until the economic crash in the 1920s.

Interest in motor vehicles was growing, and Norway’s first car race was organised on a frozen fjord outside Oslo in the same year that Nemak was established.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norsk bilsport, “100 år siden Norges første billøp”, on the magazine’s website: (Published 22 February 2012, downloaded 9 January 2018) The race was staged on Saturday 25 February 1912 and was so popular with the public that the whole event descended into chaos.

The first Norwegian flight by a heavier-than-air machine also took place in 1912, 25 years before the country’s first civilian airport opened at Sola outside Stavanger.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Hans Fleischer Dons became the first Norwegian to fly a powered aircraft in Norway on 1 June 1912.

Shell’s activities during its early history in Norway were linked to the fishing fleet and shipping. With fishermen switching to oil, a market was open.

Nemak expanded rapidly, with depots along the whole Norwegian coast, and acquired particular visibility in the northern part of the country.

It began constructing a tank farm in Ålesund during its first year of operation and the facility at Vågan in Svolvær was ready in 1913.

New depots followed one after the other, at Langøya, Dolvik and Lervik near Stavanger, Bergen and Hammerfest respectively. By 1916, the company had seven tank farms between Oslo and Ålesund and no less than 14 between Lofoten and Vardø.[REMOVE]Fotnote: A/S Norske Shell, “Kort fra A/S Norske Shells historie”, on its website: (Publication date unknown, downloaded 9 January 2018)

Northern Norway was to remain the centre of gravity for Norske Shell’s operations over many years. Solar oil – a form of diesel oil – was introduced in the 1920s and massively marketed by the company as fuel for the fishing fleet.

A major campaign was launched to persuade fishermen to shift from petrol to solar oil. Shell had to maintain tanks for both products for a time. Freighters were needed to supply the coastal depots. The company therefore ordered two tankers in 1913 from the Kaldnes Verft yard in Tønsberg.

Sister ships M/T Blaaskjæl and M/T Rødskjæl were delivered in 1914 as Norway’s first motor tankers, and represented an important part of the infrastructure for people living along the coast. During their early years, these vessels sailed virtually the length of the country and participated in both First and Second World Wars.

Rødskjæl was sunk by the British navy in April 1940 while berthed in Narvik, but was raised and sent to Harstad for repair. It sailed the rest of the war without incident.

The ship was stationed in Svolvær after 1945 and continued to sail for Norske Shell until about 1966, when it was sold to new owners.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Nesdal, Bjørn Anders, “MS Epo tidligere MT Rødskjæl. Dokumentasjonsrapport av skrog med prisoverslag”, Bredalsholmen, downloaded from (Publication date unknown, downloaded 9 January 2018)

First World War

A rapid transition to internal combustion engines occurred in the Norwegian fishing fleet up to 1914. From 1917, the Norwegian government faced problems in securing enough oil products.

Mild rationing was introduced that spring, followed by tougher restrictions the following autumn. That naturally caused discontent.

The government collaborated with Nemak and others to secure the largest possible imports and the best distribution of the very inadequate deliveries.

Once the war ended on 11 November 1918, it was not long before imports normalised and prices fell towards the prewar level. A new record for crude oil, lube oil and petrol imports was set in 1919, at more than 132 000 tonnes.

Cars and service stations

The motor car experienced its breakthrough in Norway during the war years. Paraffin and petrol had previously been shipped from tank farm to customer in wooden barrels and five-litre tin cans. Drivers bought petrol from the barrel at their local store.

Car numbers and traffic in Norway grew year by year, also creating a bigger market for petrol sales. On average, 20 new service stations were built annually in the period after 1920.

The horse and cart had earlier been the most important means of distributing petroleum products to inland districts, but barrels were inefficient for delivering large volumes.

Road tankers took over from horse-drawn transport during the 1920s. Shell acquired its first vehicle of this kind in 1923, with a top speed of 15 kilometres per hour.

In line with social developments, the company improved its ability to deliver petroleum products which helped to keep the wheels turning. The range at Nemak’s various facilities also constantly expanded.

Airports and aviation fuel

Stavanger acquired Norway’s first civilian airport at Sola in 1937, and Shell was in place with its 2 500-litre Federal road tanker. Today’s tankers carry about 45 000 litres.

Reputation building

A major marketing campaign was launched internationally in the 1920s under the slogan “You can be sure of Shell”. The company commissioned a number of well-known artists to produce posters which communicated the idea of power, cleanliness, reliability and modernity (see the article on the history of Shell).

In Norway, renowned Polar explorer Roald Amundsen was used for all he was worth. Leading Oslo daily Aftenposten wrote on 19 May 1926: “Roald Amundsen’s North Polar expedition uses Shell petrol exclusively”.

Nemak changed its name to A/S Norske Shell on 1 January 1940.

Second World War and after-effects

Norway was hard hit in the Second World War, and many Shell service stations were destroyed. The distribution network was largely bombed out of existence. About half of all oil storage capacity was smashed on a national basis, while every facility north of Svolvær suffered complete destruction.

The oil store in Oslo was the last to be wiped out, on 23 January 1945. Norske Shell had 130 employees when the war broke out, but this had fallen to just 80 by 1942 because of extensive layoffs.

Parallel with Marshall Aid in the post-war years, Shell’s US arm also participated in Norway’s reconstruction. One of the group’s top American executives visited the country and its northern region.

On his return home, an immediate green light was given to build up a new office in Hammerfest, and Shell thereby had one of the first permanent buildings raised in that town after the war.

Private motoring increased, and restrictions on car sales were lifted in 1960. That generated greater demand for petrol and oil products.

Sola refinery

Shell wanted to build its own Norwegian refinery in the mid-1960s, and chose Sola outside Stavanger as the site for this facility. It opened in 1968.

When Norsk Hydro brought the first cargo of Norwegian North Sea oil from Ekofisk on 4 August 1971 to Sola, the Shell refinery ranked as the largest in Norway.

By the 1990s, however, an excess of refining capacity combined with tighter EU environmental standards prompted Shell to consider selling out of Norway in 1998. It decided on 26 February 1999 to close down its refinery business even though this was operating at a profit (see separate article on the Shell refinery at Sola).

From distributor to producer

Until the 1960s, Shell’s Norwegian business concentrated primarily on downstream activities, marketing and sales. But a key event for Royal Dutch/Shell in 1959 would completely change its involvement in Norway.

The Dutch government decided that oil and gas would be sought in country’s North Sea sector, while leaving actual exploration and production to Shell and Esso.

These two majors collaborated in the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM) partnership, which had been established as early as 1943.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Carstens, Halfdan, “Opptakten til oljeeventyret”, GEO 365: (Published 12 April 2015, downloaded 9 January 2018)

It found one of the world’s largest gas fields in 1959 at Groningen in the Netherland, which meant that Shell had found resources in its own backyard.

Perhaps even more importantly, this discovery suggested that possible petroleum deposits were also to be found offshore in the North Sea basin.

All the big oil companies turned their attention to these waters. The NCS was opened for exploration in 1965, and Shell won sole licences for 10 blocks in the first licensing round. Shell has since participated in all but two Norwegian licensing rounds, securing interests as both operator and licensee.

Eight of the holdings secured in the initial 1965 round were later relinquished to the government. But block 1/6 neighbours Ekofisk, and turned out in 1979 to include an extension of that field as well as the Albuskjell satellite.

Before drilling began on the NCS, Shell was already at work in the UK sector – still with Esso. It established the UK Shell Expro arm in 1964 to act as operator in a 50-50 joint venture with the US major.

The partners secured licence interests in no less than 75 blocks in the UK North Sea, and Shell Expro made the first British offshore discovery in 1966 with the Indefatigable gas field. BP found Leman, also a gas field, later the same year.

On the NCS, Norske Shell spudded its first well in 1968 with the Orion rig. An exploration and production department was formally established the same year. This acquired offices in some temporary buildings at Tananger outside Stavanger.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Lerøen, Bjørn Vidar (1990): Fra Groningen til Troll. Norske Shell – 25 år på norsk sokkel. Norske Shell, 14. After five dry wells, however, these premises were quickly shut down again.

Like most of the other oil companies, Shell was giving up on the NCS when the news came in 1969 that Phillips Petroleum had made a big oil strike on Ekofisk. That revived interest.

Shell Expro found the Auk and not least the Brent oil fields in the UK sector during 1971, and Dunlin two years later. The Norske Shell exploration office in Tanager reopened in 1971.

Royal Dutch/Shell had long experience of offshore exploration and production in such places as Venezuela, California, the Gulf of Mexico and Brunei. But the northern North Sea, where Brent lies, presented deeper water, higher waves and more extreme weather changes than these regions.

Thinking along new lines was required from the company when developing this field. In addition, the proportion of associated gas in the oil was relatively high. The British government had prohibited large-scale gas flaring, while injection into the reservoir was technically undesirable in the long term.

Taken together, these factors meant that a more complex platform was required – an offshore factory. Having only previously operated simple steel structures, Shell opted now for large and heavy concrete installations.

Statfjord straddles the UK-Norwegian boundary in the North Sea close to Brent, and Shell had a 10 per cent holding in the two Norwegian blocks containing this field. Both Statfjord and Albuskjell came on stream in 1979, providing Shell with welcome revenues.

After the 1973 oil crisis, all the oil companies – including Shell – turned towards Europe. Finding petroleum resources in parts of the world with stable political conditions was important.

North Sea exploration expanded. The breakthrough for Norske Shell came in the early morning of 26 August 1979, when Borgny Dolphin encountered gas in block 31/2 – the Troll field.

This acreage had been put on offer in the fourth licensing round in 1978, and it attracted wide interest despite a water depth of 350 metres and a long distance to markets. Shell gave the block low priority, but promised to drill a relatively large number of wells. It was made exploration operator, subject to stringent conditions.

According to Norwegian rules at the time, big licence holdings were reserved to the national oil industry and state-owned Statoil got 50 per cent. Shell also had to accept that the operatorship would be transferred to Statoil when production began.

The first well identified large quantities of gas and oil. Troll was almost on a par with Groningen for gas reserves. Shell developed the gas side together with Statoil, while Norsk Hydro took charge of bringing the oil on stream.

European oil production was extremely important for Shell during the 1980s, and occupied second place to the USA in global terms. Europe’s political certainty and stability were crucial considerations.

The 1990s saw natural gas become more significant for the Shell group’s overall business, moving into second place among core activities after oil but ahead of petrochemicals.



Car numbers in Norway

1895 – First bus in scheduled service, Gjøvik
1898 – Norway’s first privately owned car – Stavanger – a Benz Velo Comfortable
1912 – 1 062 vehicles (743 private cars, 97 taxis)
1920 – 9 100 (2 400 lorries)
1925 – 25 222(7 600 lorries)
1930 – 4 5478 (17 878 lorries)
1935 – 62 992 (24 859 lorries)
1940 – 87 767 (32 956 lorries)



Published March 19, 2018   •   Updated October 17, 2018
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Opening the northern NCS

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) above the 62nd parallel – the northern limit of the North Sea – was opened for exploration drilling in 1979. But it took acrimonious political disputes to reach this point.
— During the first Offshore North Sea (ONS) exhibition and conference, held in Stavanger in 1974, an “alternative oil debate” was organised by the Rogaland Nature Conservation Society. Here politicians Berge Furre and Bjørn Skogstad Aamo shows one of the posters used to engage people in the debate. Photo: Erik Thoring
© Norsk Oljemuseum

When oil operations were first permitted on the NCS in 1965, activity was confined to the North Sea. So the question is why it took 15 years before offshore activities moved further north.

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, engelsk
Map showing the blocks of the Norwegian continental shelf in 1965. Map from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

The 62nd parallel itself does not represent a physical reality. When the boundary agreements for the North Sea were reached in the mid-1960s on the basis of the median line principle, this latitude – more precisely, 61°44’12”N – marked the northern limit of Norway’s dividing line with the UK.

Limits to Norwegian sovereignty were less obvious above that parallel, since international law at the time failed to provide clear rules about the outermost continental shelf boundary.

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, engelsk
The North Sea devided using the median line principle.

The Norwegian government stuck to the more general criterion in the Geneva convention on the continental shelf, which set the outer limit “where the depth of the superjacent waters admits of the exploitation of the natural resources of the said areas”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Recommendation no 294 to the Storting (parliament) (1970-1971) from the reinforced standing committee on industry. Exploration for and production of underwater natural resources on the NCS, etc.

Northern dream

Following the discovery of the Ekofisk field in the North Sea in 1969, the dream of also finding oil further north in the Norwegian and Barents Seas took hold.

Petroleum-related activity in the central and northern regions of Norway was put on the political agenda, although the intensity of the attention devoted to the subject varied.

So did the issues discussed in this context: environmental protection, oil spill prevention, fishing, base locations, jobs and regional development. So how did the debate develop, and who contributed?

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, stortingsmelding, industridepartementet, engelsk,
"exploration and recovery of subsea natural resources on the Norwegian continental shelf" Storting white paper no. 95 (1969—70)

The question of what should be done with the rest of the NCS was first raised by the non-socialist coalition government headed by Per Borten in White Paper no 95 (1969-70). This argued that resources in the Norwegian and Barents Seas should be mapped.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 95 to the Storting (1969-1970). Exploration for and production of underwater natural resources on the NCS, etc: “With reference to the interest shown and the need to maintain continuous activity on the continental shelf, the Ministry of Industry has concluded that the summer of 1971 could be a suitable time to commence exploration for petroleum north of the 62nd parallel.”

Opening this part of the NCS was supported by the foreign ministry, the Norwegian Petroleum Council and all Norwegian and foreign oil companies. The question was rather when exploration could begin there.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rommetvedt, Hilmar (2014). “Oljeleting nord for 62. breddegrad. Tilbakeblikk på en laaang beslutningsprosess.” Norsk Oljemuseums årbok: 47.

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, stortingsmelding, industridepartementet, engelsk,
Trygve Bratteli. Photo: the Storting

Nothing more came of this White Paper – the first in a long series. The Labour Party came to power under Trygve Bratteli in the spring of 1971, and returned to the question of petroleum operations above the 62nd parallel.

White Paper no 76 (1970-71) revealed no divergent views. The political parties were still largely in agreement. Environmental protection and nature conservation were mentioned, to be sure, but not included in the assessment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 76 to the Storting (1970-71). Exploration for and production of underwater natural resources on the NCS, etc.

During the Storting’s consideration of this document, it was discussed by a reinforced standing committee on industry which submitted its recommendation in the spring of 1971. That included a reference to a statement from the council executive boards in Finnmark, Troms and Nordland (Norway’s three northernmost counties).

They called for the northern NCS to be opened as soon as possible because of the regional policy challenges facing them, which included economic decline and depopulation.

Broad agreement prevailed in the Storting that providing new industrial activity and countering emigration in this region represented a national political responsibility. That encompassed developing a north Norwegian petroleum – and preferably also petrochemical – industry.

In addition, the recommendation presented what became known as the “10 oil commandments”, a set of principles which laid the basis for the subsequent Norwegian oil model.

Extending activities northwards was addressed by the ninth “commandment”: “that a pattern of activities is selected north of the 62nd parallel which reflects the special socio-political conditions prevailing in this part of the country.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Recommendation no 294 to the Storting (1970-71) from the reinforced standing committee on industry. Exploration for and production of underwater natural resources on the NCS, etc: 636. This recommendation was based on reports no 95 (1969-70) and no 76 (1970-71) to the Storting.

The committee’s recommendation was approved unanimously.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Storting Proceedings, 14 June 1971. Item no 17. Recommendation no 294 to the Storting (1970-71) from the reinforced standing committee on industry. Exploration for and production of underwater natural resources on the NCS, etc (recommendation no 294 to the Storting, see reports no 95 (1969-70) and no 76 (1970-71)): 3240.

Nothing was said in the recommendation or the debate about the NCS off the counties of Møre og Romsdal, Sør-Trøndelag and Nord-Trøndelag (usually referred to as part of mid-Norway).

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, engelsk
Lars Korvald. Photo: the Storting

A minority centrist coalition led by Christian Democrat Lars Korvald took over when Bratteli resigned after European Community membership for Norway was rejected by a referendum in 1972. In its White Paper no 71 (1972-73), the new government undertook to “speed up work on exploring the NCS north of the 62nd parallel”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 71 to the Storting (1972-73). Long-term programme for 1974-77: 323. It anticipated that drilling could begin in 1974-77.

Bratteli returned to power in 1973. His administration now aimed to start exploration off northern Norway between 1975 and 1977.

So far so good. Four governments in a row had agreed on all significant points about oil policy in northern Norway. Their White Papers had been dominated by issues of governance and timing.

In other words, drilling for oil above the 62nd parallel was not regarded as a political question. It was rather viewed as a solution to a regional policy problem. Delays were due to technical issues, and “green” values had yet to find expression. Marine pollution had been touched on in the White Papers, which concluded that drilling above the 62nd parallel could be pursued with an “acceptable level of risk”.

No opposition to the prevailing oil policy existed in the Storting, and nobody was against petroleum operations on environmental grounds.

The environmental movement had not experienced its breakthrough in Norway at this time (see the article on Shell’s history), and the desire to move north was deeply entrenched in a wish to spread industry and jobs to local communities.

Polarisation and new participants

Political desires and decisions were not why the dream of oil operations on the northern NCS failed to materialise in the early 1970s, with the go-ahead constantly postponed.

One reason was oil-industry capacity problems. While the international companies wanted new exploration acreage, their primary interest lay in the more accessible North Sea.

A number of large discoveries were made there in the early 1970s, and the industry would have plenty of development projects for a long time to come. The civil service also needed to prepare for an expansion northwards.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ryggvik, Helge (16 October 2014). Striden om oljeboring i nord. Store norske leksikon. Downloaded 1 February 2017 from

However, the consequence of these delays was that more participants secured both the time and the opportunity to enter the debate with various issues and solutions.

A new phase was initiated with White Paper no 25, presented by the Bratteli government in February 1974. This took the first systematic look at the place of petroleum in a broader social context.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Sejerstad, Francis (1999). Systemvalg og politikk. Universitetsforlaget: 33.

Issues related to oil production on the northern NCS were discussed more explicitly and placed in a wider perspective. Topics now discussed were employment, restructuring problems, regional policy, and managing resources and the revenues they would generate.

Attention focused particularly on how to avoid the potentially damaging effects of excessive oil income on the Norwegian economy. A “moderate” pace of production was the solution proposed.

The White Paper stated that: “On the basis of a desire for long-term resource utilisation and after an overall social assessment, the government has … decided that Norway should maintain a moderate pace in recovering the petroleum resources”. Such an approach was also necessary in order to provide the time and opportunities required to implement the necessary social changes.

The debate on the pace of production created a broader basis than discussions about drilling above the 62nd parallel, even though many of the same arguments were repeated.

Production must not be allowed to outstrip the parallel development of technology and emergency preparedness, so that the industry could stay within an “acceptable” level of risk.

While environmental protection and possible threats to fishing were also drawn into the discussion, these issues did not acquire decisive significance. “With a moderate pace of petroleum operations, environmental problems will not exceed a level the government believes could be handled in a satisfactory way,” the White Paper observed.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 25 to the Storting (1973-74). The role of petroleum in Norwegian society: 16.

åpning av sokkelen i nord, 62, engelsk
At the fishmonger's in Stavanger the windows were decorated with posters promoting a sceptical view regarding exploration drilling north of the 62nd parallel. Poto: Erik Thoring/Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature

Norway’s petroleum policy debate in the second half of the 1970s focused strongly on opening the northern NCS and when this should happen.

Divisions became clearer – oil or fish, oil or the environment. A gradual shift occurred from a concentration on opportunities and discoveries to addressing hazards and threats.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Arbo, Peter, and Hersoug, Bjørn (2010). Oljevirksomhetens inntog i nord. Næringsutvikling, politikk og samfunn. Oslo: 56.

The environmental movement was expanding, and won support both from the left wing and from the centrist parties over fears of negative consequences for nature and the fisheries.

While green activism focused in the late 1960s and early 1970s on protecting nature and combating pollution, it developed during the 1970s into a political movement. Key roles were played here by eco-philosopher Arne Næss and Sigmund Kvaløy Setreng.

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Eager members of Nature & Youth hands out flyers and talk to bypassers about the alternative oil debate. Photo: Erik Thoring

During the first Offshore North Sea (ONS) exhibition and conference, held in Stavanger in 1974, an “alternative oil debate” was organised by the Rogaland Nature Conservation Society. This open meeting, under the title “Should oil revenues relieve world poverty or reinforce our own affluence problems”, attracted a capacity audience.

The new Future in Our Hands organisation led by Erik Dammann was responsible for the session together with Næss and Professor Torolf Rafto, best known as a human rights activist.

Farmer and fishermen organisations also backed it. They feared the “oil adventure” would not benefit their members, and played an active role as co-organisers and financial backers.

The alternative oil debate was also staged to coincide with ONS in 1976 and 1978. Activists from Friends of the Earth came from the USA to participate. But the effort to prevent oil drilling north of the 62nd parallel failed of its purpose.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Thoring, Erik. (2014, 18 February) “Alternative oljetanker i oljebyen”. Friends of the Earth Norway.

During this period, both the environmental and fishermen’s organisations declared the waters above the 62nd parallel to be a protected zone.

Opposition among the fishermen had two drivers. One was the environmental threat, with potential harm to fish from oil spills. The other was considered even more dangerous: the menace to communities and established social structures.

Oil operations could cripple fishing across large sea areas and reduced opportunities for catches, thereby threatening the traditional local economic and social order.

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"Oil or fish?" Political poster made by Terje Roalkvam

Opponents of drilling north of the 62nd parallel organised themselves in groups under the slogan “Oil or Fish?”. But they never managed to achieve broad mobilisation. Northern Norway could not let these threats be decisive. It needed the jobs.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Sejerstad, Francis (1999). Systemvalg og politikk. Universitetsforlaget: 62.

In White Paper no 81 (1974-75), presented in the spring of 1975, the Ministry of Industry said it expected to award production licences for a limited number of blocks as early as the autumn of 1976 or early 1977. Drilling could then begin in the summer of 1977 at the earliest.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 81 to the Storting (1974-75) Activities on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Reference was also made to a new White Paper which would be ready for the Storting’s spring session in 1976. The start to drilling was later postponed to 1978 because of the strict standards set for oil spill response.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Storting Proceedingss no 94, 10 March 1977. Petroleum exploration north of the 62nd parallel: 3028.

While the overall assessment was still based on technical and safety considerations, social and environmental consequences also acquired significance. Attention where the environment was concerned focused on the risk of oil blowouts, the level of oil spill response and possible damaging effects on fish and nature.

The first split between the political parties occurred in 1975-76, when the Labour government advocated a start to northern drilling in 1978.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Report no 91 to the Storting (1975-76). Petroleum exploration north of the 62nd parallel.

White Paper no 91 (1976-76) emphasised that a moderate pace would have to be maintained in the opening phase, with special regard to “fisheries, safety and social adaptation”. The reason for the delay compared with the previous policy document was the need to build up a satisfactory system for oil spill response.

Admitting that the industry could never be made “completely risk-free”, the White Paper discussed the consequences of a possible blow-out but regarded its probability as very small.

The government concluded that “the degree of danger lies within a level of risk which can be accepted.” What should be regarded as “an acceptable level of risk” became the big question in the second half of the 1970s. But the Conservatives no longer wanted to fix a start date for drilling. After siding with Labour, the party was now seeking a coalition deal with the Christian Democrats and Liberals.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rommetvedt, Hilmar (2014). “Oljeleting nord for 62. breddegrad. Tilbakeblikk på en laaang beslutningsprosess”. Norsk Oljemuseums årbok: 47.

Following a lengthy debate on 10 March 1977, the Storting unanimously agreed that it “assumes a White Paper will be presented before a decision is taken to begin exploratory drilling for oil north of the 62nd parallel”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Storting Proceedings no 94, 10 March 1977 – Petroleum exploration north of the 62nd parallel: 3111-3112. The rapporteur was Arvid Johanson (Labour), chair of the industry committee.

The petroleum industry, the environment and drilling above the 62nd parallel also became topics for public debate, with the North Norwegian Petroleum Council was naturally in favour of drilling.

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The Norwegian Fishermen's Association

On the other side, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Association wanted the northern NCS to remain closed for the near future. While not opposed to north Norwegian oil activity, it expressed clear doubts.

The association believed it would be possible to identify areas which were attractive to the oil explorers but not of interest – or at least less so – for fishing.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norsk Oljerevy, vol 1, no 3, June 1975. Utålmodighet i nord.

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Photo: The Norwegian Fishermen's Association Archive

Business interests in northern Norway were becoming impatient. That found clear expression at an oil conference held in Harstad during February 1975, where north Norwegian industry was discussed from a regional policy aspect.

The main message from the conference was that the level of petroleum activity proposed by the government would be far too low. A “moderate” pace would be destructive for commercial life in the northernmost counties.

To have a regional policy effect, operations must be on a scale which could form the basis for a certain minimum level of activity. The northernmost counties needed jobs, it was noted, and sought badly needed specialist, technical and economic upgrades to their commercial foundation.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norsk Oljerevy, vol 1, no 3, June 1975. Utålmodighet i nord.

Industry in northern and mid Norway felt it had spent years preparing for oil activities, but been faced with constant delays. Big sums had been spent without coming any closer to the goal.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norsk Oljerevy, vol 1, no 2, March 1976. Vi må vite hvor vi står.

The biggest confrontations between fishing and oil interests occurred in mid-Norway, as reflected at a 1976 seminar held in Kristiansund by the Mid-Norway Petroleum Council and the Norwegian Petroleum Society.

Proposals from the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) for drilling in two areas covering a couple of the region’s most important fishing grounds – the Langgrunn and Halten Banks – horrified participants.

These plans were completely at odds with the priorities of the petroleum council and the fishermen. The Fishermen’s Association stated that: “permitting any form of oil activity on the Halten Bank is out of the question”. Such conflicts of interest had not been seen in Norway’s oil debate earlier.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norsk Oljerevy, vol 2, no 9, November 1976. Forslag om boring midt i de viktigste fiskefeltene.

Fishermen fears were fuelled not so much by oil spills as by littering of the seabed with anchors, buoys, wire, iron girders, metal shavings and defective equipment left behind or dumped. All these items could damage fishing gear. A broader political split also emerged. Labour was not prepared to set a specific year, but wanted to speed up work on carefully mapping fishing interests.

The Conservatives were ready to allow exploration, but only after a research project had confirmed that possible pollution would not harm the fisheries.

And the farmer-oriented Centre Party would not be tied to a timetable. It supported a relatively early opening of the northern NCS, but only after the agricultural sector had been equipped to meet the oil age.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rommetvedt, Hilmar (2014). Oljeleting nord for 62. breddegrad. Tilbakeblikk på en laaang beslutningsprosess. Norsk Oljemuseums årbok: 52.

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Supply/rescue wessel Seaway Falcon hosed water down the gas flow of the Bravo rig. Photo: ConocoPhillips/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

However, the 1977 Ekofisk Bravo blowout in the North Sea made it difficult to approve oil exploration off northern Norway by the planned date of 1978.

This accident exposed with full clarity that Norway’s oil spill response was not acceptable. In the longer term, however, it helped to give ordinary Norwegians some reassurance.

The worst they feared had happened, but without visible lasting consequences. A horror scenario had been presented about the effects of a blowout, yet all traces of the big oil slick vanished after a spell of high seas.

Nevertheless, the accident revealed how badly prepared Norway was to deal with such incidents. Its oil spill response was subsequently geared up, with funds appropriated for research and new equipment.

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Press conference 24.04.1977. Gro Harlem Brundtland (Minister of Environment) talking about the Bravo blow-out accident together with Hans Chr. Bugge (pollution control) and the Chief of Stavanger Police. Photo: ConocoPhillips/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Approved at last

The Labour government under Odvar Nordli followed up the Storting’s 1977 request for a new policy document with White Paper no 57 (1978-79).

About half its 106 pages were devoted to safety, primarily the threat of oil spills from an uncontrolled blowout. It was clear that such incidents occurred fairly frequently during exploration drilling, but short-lived gas escapes were the most common. The probability of oil blowouts was low.

The relationship between the oil and fishing sectors occupied 11 pages of the White Paper, and a description of the drilling plans covered about 25. Yet again, the government concluded that an overall assessment showed limited petroleum activity in parts of the relevant areas to be acceptable.

The initial blocks in question were located on the Halten Bank and the Tromsø Patch further north, and the government proposed a start to exploration drilling in 1980.

Agreement had again been reached between Labour and the Conservatives when the industry committee produced recommendation no 293 to the full Storting in response to the White Paper. Regional policy effects and the need to learn more meant that drilling should be initiated as soon as practical, subject to the safety assumptions.

Views in the standing committee on industry were nevertheless divided over whether and when exploration should begin. The Christian Democrats, Centre Party, Socialist Left and Liberals, as well as Labour’s Lyder Nilssen and Georg Apenes from the Conservatives, voted for an alternative proposal to postpone drilling north of the 62nd parallel.

After a detailed review of safety, emergency preparedness and relations with fishing interests, the committee’s recommendation nevertheless concluded that exploration drilling for petroleum above the 62nd parallel could begin in the summer of 1980.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Recommendation no 293 (1978-79) from the standing committee on industry. Petroleum exploration north of the 62nd parallel (Report no 57 to the Storting).

This was finally approved by the full Storting against one vote on 25 May 1979.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Storting Proceedings no 238, 25 May 1979. Petroleum exploration north of the 62nd parallel.

Mexican blowout

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23rd of March 1980 the Ixtoc well was finally plugged. Photo: U.S. - NOAA (

Soon after the Storting had sanctioned oil exploration in the Norwegian and Barents Seas, the unthinkable happened again. Mexico’s Ixtoc 1 well off Yucatán had a blowout on 3 June 1979.

More than 4 000 tonnes of oil per day flowed from the rig, which was not halted until October when the well was partly sealed. However, it continued to leak until a relief well had been completed in March 1980.

This ranked as the biggest marine oil pollution disaster at the time, and also raised questions about the performance of Norwegian oil spill clean-up equipment.

Thirty-five tonnes of this gear and almost a dozen experts were sent from Norway to the Gulf of Mexico, with Statoil in charge of the operation.

The state oil company announced at an early stage that the Norwegian clean-up equipment sent to Mexico functioned very well, with most of the oil spill collected on the first day by the 600-metre boom and two skimmers. It subsequently transpired that the gear had only been in use for 18 hours and that it mostly collected water.

But the blowout did not affect the allocation of blocks north of the 62nd parallel. Twenty-six were put on offer in the summer of 1979, six on the Halten Bank and 20 on the Tromsø Patch.

Yet another White Paper on petroleum activities above the 62nd parallel appeared in January 1980, and the Storting gave the final all-clear two months later.

The first three blocks were awarded on the same day. Statoil and Norsk Hydro received one each in the Troms I area, with Saga Petroleum becoming operator for one in Møre II. Exploration drilling on the northern NCS aroused strong passions. The conflict between developing industry and jobs on the one hand and concerns for a vulnerable north Norwegian coastal environment persisted.

The Ixtoc 1 blowout added fuel to the flames. Fishermen and nature conservationists were sceptical about drilling, and their protests found a variety of expressions.

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The LP cover of Kära Syster by Sverre Kjelsberg. "Akseptabelt Risikonivå" is track no. 15.

These included a song by well-known protest singer Sverre Kjelsberg, set to a bossa nova rhythm, which ended with a rejection of oil drilling. Its title was Acceptable level of risk.

Published March 19, 2018   •   Updated October 4, 2018
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