Stavanger

Our last day in Stavanger was a bit of an odd one. In Norway, May is the month of public holidays, which meant that Abby and I had Monday off for Pentecost, but then again so did everyone else. Most things were closed due to the holiday, which meant that we were able to start the day off at a leisurely pace. The first item on our agenda: breakfast.

Now, one of the things Heather asked us to do with her hotel points was to enjoy a hearty breakfast. Abby and I were pretty confident that we were up to the challenge. Norwegian hotel breakfast is by far some of the best I’ve ever had in terms of options. So, taking some inspiration from Heather’s husband Jason, an avid fan of Norwegian breakfast, we did battle with the buffet table and managed to go away stuffed after a few courses. For another perspective on Norwegian breakfast, check out a blog post that Jason did on breakfast amongst other things.

IMG_3928  IMG_3929  IMG_3930After loading our things into the car, Abby and I wandered back into town and checked out the local market before moseying over to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum. Now whenever I mentioned that I was going to Stavanger to Norwegians, the general reaction was something along the lines of “Ugh, oil.” Stavanger is the home of Statoil, Norway’s largest energy company, and is also the headquarters of many other energy companies. So while my Norwegian compatriots weren’t thrilled that I was going to Stavanger, I was excited to go Stavanger, and I was particularly excited to go to this museum to learn a bit more about Norway’s relationship with oil.

The museum itself is pretty well designed and very family friendly. Much of the museum is dedicated to the history of oil and gas in Norway, how it is monitored and regulated, and of course what life is like on board oil rigs. I’m not entirely sure when all of the information was published in the museum (so some of the stats might be a bit outdated) but here’s some of what I learned.

Although Norway is well known for its oil wealth, as of 2009, the Norwegian continental shelf only contains .6% of the world’s found oil reserves and 1.6% of its gas reserves. While plenty of other countries have more oil and gas (Norway is 18th for oil and 12th for gas), in 2011 it was still the world’s seventh largest exporter of oil (exporting over 1.5 million barrels of oil per day) and in 2010 was the second largest exporter of gas (100 billion sm³ of gas per year).

There are 10 “oil commandments” that govern Norwegian oil policy. These commandments, or the Norwegian model, essentially focus on establishing the oil and gas industry in such a way as to benefit the whole country. Since Norway began recovering oil and gas in 1971:

  • They have recovered more than 7,000 billion NOK worth of oil and gas
  • More than 200,000 people are employed due to the industry (though that number has definitely taken a hit since the recent drop in oil prices)
  • The current oil fund is worth more than 2,000 billion NOK or approximately 500,000 NOK (64,444 USD) per Norwegian

While prosperity has certainly come to Norway, studies on the country’s happiness levels show that the huge increase in wealth in recent decades has had a small impact on overall happiness. In other words, money isn’t everything.

One oil related government objective that Abby and I found interesting was the idea that “every house should be occupied in every corner of the country.” Basically, people shouldn’t feel obligated to move to the city in search of jobs. Oil revenues have been used to help ensure that wealth is extended to every corner of the country, and although this is an expensive policy, Norwegians are quite happy to help ensure that smaller communities thrive. To give you a better idea of how spread out and sparsely populated Norway is:

  • In January 2010 Norway had a population density of 16 people per square kilometer (the second lowest in Europe)
  • Norway has 430 local authorities, 43 of which don’t encompass an urban area, 130 with a population of less than 2,500, and 25 with a population of less than 1,000
  • Less than 100 settlements in Norway have a population of more than 5,000  people

Abby and I also had fun looking at some of the model oil rigs and climbing into some of the diving equipment. Personally I found the diving rigs to be a bit too claustrophobic, which wasn’t helped when I learned that in order to work at depths of more than 50 m (164 ft) divers have to go through a 12 hour saturation process for their bodies to adjust to the pressure. In Norway, divers are only allowed to work for 14 days at those depths, and afterwards it takes about 3-6 days before the body recovers and returns to normal pressure. This sounded wholly unappealing to me. Clearly oil extraction is not my calling.

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Once we finished up at the museum, we took a drive out to Stavanger’s Swords in Rock monument, or Sverd i fjell, before heading over to the airport. It was there that we realized that we were on the same flight. My supposedly direct flight back to Trondheim was really a flight to Trondheim with a pitstop in Bergen. Turns out the flight to Bergen is so short (25 minutes) that it hardly makes a difference to stop in Bergen and drop off and pick up new passengers, than it does to just fly to Trondheim directly.

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Electric Cars

In case you just couldn’t get enough of alternative energy, I thought I’d talk a bit about electric cars in Norway. Before coming to Norway, I think the most that I’d ever interacted with electric cars had been from spotting the occasional Tesla and being forced to watch the film Who Killed the Electric Car? (my English teacher had clearly failed to lesson plan that day). But this all changed when I moved to Norway. In Norway, I see electric cars everywhere.

Cars are expensive in Norway. They have very steep taxes, registration fees are exorbitant, and toll roads are everywhere. And while I initially thought that gas would be cheaper in Norway due to the oil industry, I was very much mistaken. Like most things in Norway, gas is quite expensive.

But things are quite different if you own an electric car. Most of these expenses disappear largely due to government intervention and the government’s desire to be environmentally friendly. Norway has been supportive of electric cars since the late 1980s. In 1990, the import tax on electric cars was abolished and made permanent in 1996, and a slew of economic benefits have been introduced since then. Electric cars do not have sales tax or the standard 25% value added tax (VAT), and they are exempt from road and ferry tolls and parking fees. Electric cars are free to charge and are subject to cheaper insurance. They are even allowed to use the bus lanes. In 2012, Norwegian government pledged to keep these financial incentives until 2018 or until 50,000 zero emission vehicles are on the road, whichever happens first.

It’s no wonder that the electric car is popular, since overall they are much cheaper than your average car. In fact, I’ve even seen a Tesla taxi around Trondheim (Tesla prices start at 105,500 USD). As things stand right now, there are about 37,000 electric cars registered in Norway, over 5,000 charging stations, and electric cars are responsible for about 6-12% of vehicle sales every month in Norway (Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association). It’s clear that electric cars are growing increasingly popular and increasingly practical.

But like most things, not everyone thinks the electric car is God’s gift to earth. As more and more electric cars join the roads, there are more and more critics. More cars on the road translates to more congestion–particularly in the bus lanes. Electric cars are about 75% of the vehicles in the bus lanes and can often clog up traffic. A fact that bus drivers and commuters are unhappy about. Although the number of charging stations is increasing all the time, the government has not quite been able to keep up with demand. Electric car owners complain that there are not enough charging stations and people who drive regular cars complain about how they still have to pay for gas. And although these are all valid concerns, I think the thing that troubles people most is what will happen when these financial benefits end. Many worry about the collapse of the electric car market, and it’s not an unjust concern. But I suppose there is nothing to do but to wait and see. I doubt that much will happen in my remaining time in Norway other than having a few more charging stations pop up around town. For now, my new goal is to simply catch a ride in the Tesla taxi.