Europe’s oil capital

 By Nicholas Newman

Stavanger is Europe’s oil and energy capital, home to Statoil’s headquarters and nearly 300 energy service companies plus several petroleum-related government departments. Stavanger was also the 2008 European Cultural capital. Nicholas Newman explains how energy resources and culture mix together and what is the oil and gas royalties model that Norway is using to transform energy revenues into cultural initiatives

Surrounded by some of Norway’s most dramatic natural beauty, Stavanger is Europe’s oil and energy capital, home to Statoil’s Headquarters and the regional HQs of ExxonMobil, BP, Total and ConocoPhillips. It is also home to nearly 300 energy service companies plus several petroleum-related government departments. Awarded European Capital of Culture in 2008, Stavanger is one of the most vibrant cities in Norway, known for its festivals, nightlife, and culinary scene.

The 2008 designation was celebrated by cultural events throughout the year and cost around 300 million Norwegian Kroner (NOK) or $36 million. The efforts were supported by the government, the region’s taxpayers and corporate contributions in the form of commercial agreements, sponsorship and grants.

Four main sponsors, including Total, contributed 100 million NOK ($120 million) and much of today’s scene is supported with oil money in two ways: directly by major and minor oil industry companies and through funding from the national arts budget, worth some €1.2 bn ($1.4 bn) per year, which is distributed through various central and local government agencies. “Currently, oil money is providing an estimated 14 percent of Norway’s national cultural budget,” suggests Carl Kristian Johansen Editor at Music Norway, a government agency for promoting Norwegian culture.

Norway’s Oil Fund

Norway deposits all its oil and gas revenues into its sovereign wealth fund, known officially as the Government Pension Fund Global, or more colloquially as the “oil fund.” Worth some $900 billion in summer 2015, it was set up in 1990, principally to keep traditional industries alive and to support future generations when the oil runs out.

The government receives oil and gas revenues by taxing energy company’s profits at 78 percent and receives dividends from the government-controlled oil and gas company Statoil, in which it holds a 67 percent equity stake. But the biggest contribution comes from state-owned Petoro, which takes a minimum 20 percent stake in all Norway’s offshore oil and gas leases. Petoro is a partner to all oil and gas companies operating in Norway’s offshore fields, paying its full share of all development costs, operations and maintenance. All Petoro’s net revenues are paid by the government into the oil fund.

The government withdraws an average of 4 percent from the oil fund’s market value each year to help towards paying for public services. The oil fund contributes around 10 percent of the government’s budget. Funds reach Stavanger’s cultural scene via Norway’s Culture Ministry as well as municipal and regional councils. But equally important, if not more so, is the direct contribution from the energy and energy-related companies located in and around Stavanger. Their contribution comes in a mix of roles as donors, sponsors, collaborators and audience. “Though their main focus is in the classical music field, such as concerts, opera and chamber music, “ notes Carl Kristian Johansen.

“That means company funding of the theater, our jazz festival, Stavanger 2008 – European Capital of Culture, to mention some major examples,” says Trond Lie, advisor Department of Cultural Affairs. As to the importance of oil money on Stavanger’s cultural scene, Lie continues, “What you call oil money is of course very important for festivals, for our symphonic orchestra, for building our new concert hall, to mention some examples.”

However, observes Stavanger City Councillor and member of the cultural committee Per Olav Hanssen, “They have been important to Stavanger’s cultural scene, but have had no influence on the determining the program.” In addition, Per Olav Hanssen says, “I especially appreciate their sponsorship of the Chamber Music scene, which is my favorite type of music.”

What to see in the old town

The old town, with its 18th-century houses, old paper mills and sardine canneries, was transformed from a sleepy sea-side town by the discovery, in 1969, of the Ekofisk oil field and subsequent North Sea development.

Take the docks for instance. They used to be littered with fish canning factories, but since the arrival of oil, whole areas have been redeveloped to accommodate cruise ships such as the Britannia and Queen Elizabeth, which visit regularly during the summer months.

Stavanger’s harbor became even more popular as host to the spectacular Tall Ships Race in 2004, 2007 and 2011. The races, of several hundred nautical miles, are held annually in European waters and are designed to encourage international friendship and training for young people, who make up 50 percent of the crew. All three visits of the Tall Ships Race to Stavanger, alongside associated cultural events including jazz, country, rock and pop concerts and the singing of sea shanties, were sponsored by Total E&P Norge, the local exploration subsidiary of French energy giant Total. According to local paper,Aftenbladet, Stavanger will again host the Tall Ships Race in 2018.

Stavanger Cathedral

Towering over the old town is Stavanger’s 13th-century cathedral, which has played a significant part in the history and culture of Stavanger since medieval times. Today, its seven choirs are supported by ExxonMobil to produce church music of the highest quality.

Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Not ten minutes’ walk from the cruise ships berths, in the Boreviga part of the old city, lies the city’s most visited museum, the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which opened in 1998 to inform Norwegians about the country’s new found and most impressive resource — oil. A low, modern building with a tower on one side that is a partial replica of an oil platform, the museum is visited by around 95,000 people a year including around 12,000 students and schoolchildren. It is the only petroleum museum in Europe.

The museum has many interactive and educational exhibits and provides insights into technological development in the oil industry. It shows the story of how oil and gas are created, discovered and produced and what these products are used for. It contains original objects, models, films and interactive exhibits illustrating the working life of North sea divers. The museum has developed its own teaching plan in subjects such as geology, energy and petroleum, and ExxonMobil has donated several educational games.

Not to be missed is an oversized digital counter, a sort of clock that counts in real time how much oil money has accumulated in the oil fund since 1995. From its inception and until 2021, the museum is partnered by ConocoPhillips, and its sponsors read like a who’s who of the oil industry in the North Sea. They include energy giants such as BP, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, independents such as Hess, Marathon Oil and DetNorske and oil field service contractors including AkerSolutions, Halliburton and Weatherford.

Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Major cultural events

Throughout the year, the oil industry and its associated financial and service contractors sponsor a wide range of cultural events spread around the city. These include the Vintage Jazz festival in January, whose main sponsor is Wellperformance, a Stavanger-based oil and gas sector consultancy. ConocoPhillips and Total are sponsors of the annual Stavanger Major beach volleyball contest in which the world’s best beach volleyball players are on the court and Norway’s best audience occupy the stands.

Stavanger New Concert Hall

To the north west of the old city, lying in a public park is Stavanger’s concert hall, which opened in 2012. Completed in 2010, its construction was supported by ExxonMobil and by local and regional government. It is home to the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra.

Venezuelan-born Christian Vasquez is the orchestra’s Chief Conductor while Fabio Biondi is the current Artistic Leader for Baroque and Classical music. The music on offer includes the standard Symphonic Dances, the Percussion Concerto and Bolero, as well as the latest popular film music produced by Disney.

In addition to local and regional government sponsorship, the Stavanger Symphony orchestra receives sponsorship from oil field service contractor Haliburton and the exploration and production arms of Norway’s Statoil and Germany’s Wintershall. Statoil, under its “Heroes of Tomorrow” program, sponsors four local talented young musicians who will play in the orchestra in four concerts during the 2015-2016 season. More music is available every August when the week-long International Chamber Music Festivalis held, courtesy of Total and Engie, formally Gulf de Suez, in Stavanger’s Concert Hall. Each year Statoil sponsors a free outdoor concert featuring a variety of artists .

Rogaland Theatre

In nearby Rogoland lies the Rogaland Theatre, another important and exciting player on Stavanger’s cultural scene. At least 10-14 productions are presented each year on four different stages, including both modern and classic dramas from Norway and abroad, as well as comedies, musicals and children’s theater. There is a long tradition of theater for children and young people that is unique in Norway. Each year, the children’s theater puts on between 80-100 performances on Rogaland Theatre’s main stage. Since 2007, ConocoPhillips has been one of Rogaland Theatre’s main sponsors and it represents the company’s largest single cultural sponsorship agreement in the Stavanger region. In addition to being a main sponsor, ConocoPhillips has contributed as a partner in several unique productions, the most recent being ‘Teaterkonsert Beethoven,” which had its world premiere at Rogaland Theatre in 2013.

Stavanger’s Oil and culture mix

In medieval times, merchants, princes and the church financed culture. Today, oil money pays for culture through sponsorship, patronage and partnership. The energy majors located in Stavanger are an integral part of the cultural life of the region. For example, at regular intervals throughout the year art, exhibitions from a wide range of artists are held in Statoil’s headquarters foyer in Stavanger and in the foyer of Rogaland Theatre.

To enrich the traditionally-held corporate events of Stavanger’s resident energy companies, local cultural groups are actively engaged by providing high quality music and art performances for the annual BP staff parties and PwC’s annual Christmas concert held in Stavanger Concert Hall.

At so many centers and in so many seasons, oil money, art and music have come together to enrich the lives of Stavanger’s 300,000 citizens and the 45,000 employed in the region’s petroleum sector.

about the author
Nicholas Newman
Freelance energy journalist and copywriter who regularly writes for AFRELEC, Economist, Energy World, EER, Petroleum Review, PGJ, E&P, Oil Review Africa, Oil Review Middle East. Shale Gas Guide.