Norway as a nation of technologically advanced primary industry

Ekofisk 2/4 T Photo: Norwegian Petroleum Museum/Husmo Foto.
Ekofisk 2/4 T Photo: Norwegian Petroleum Museum/Husmo Foto.

Economic growth involves technological progress, increasing income, and changing consumer habits. After the first industrial revolution, which occurred in Great Britain in the decades following 1760 and quickly spread to other countries in western Europe and North America, a major characteristic of the history of both the Western world and Norway has been strong, and for the most part, longlasting, even accelerating, economic growth – growth and changes. Norway has in fact managed better than most European countries during this long-term process of growth.

A notable feature of the process in Norway is that, right up to today, it has for the most part been linked to the constant development of new ways of exploiting the country’s marine-maritime resources and the competence found within fishing, hunting, seafaring, and maritime engineering. Moreover, this characteristic has continued as the rest of the world increasingly emancipated itself from the limitations of natural resources.

The two most striking examples of the opposite trend are Japan and South Korea, two of the most impressive post-war "economic miracles", which have happened practically speaking without any foundation in local natural resources. Norway has also today a very strong foreign sector even though, because of the increasing globalization worldwide, it is less exceptional now than it was a hundred years ago.

However, in Norway this sector is still to a very large extent linked to marine and maritime resources, in fact more so than 30 years ago. Since 1980 the offshore petroleum sector has taken over as the engine of economic growth and the country’s most important economic fundament by far, with crude oil alone being responsible for almost 40 per cent of the value of all exports in 2009 and natural gas for an additional 27 per cent.

Norway is still a leading maritime nation – its proportion of the world’s shipping tonnage lies between five and ten per cent. The fleet’s structure is constantly adjusting to both the shifting needs of the native petroleum industry and the changes in the transport needs of the growing global economy. Norwegian shipowners earned good money from the ongoing major transfer of industrial production from Europe and North America to the Far East.

Norwegian dry-cargo ships carry ores, minerals, timber, and other bulk products to the East, while a large proportion of the cars exported to the West travel on the approximately 200 specialized Norwegian car-transport ships. Seafood is the country’s third largest export item. High-tech saltwater fisheries, which have strictly limited catch quotas, are supplemented by marine fish farming, whose market value has already exceeded that of the traditional fisheries and which has in addition the potential to increase production many times over.

One should not, however, exaggerate the importance of the marine-maritime resources in a truly globalized economy. Over the last 30 years neighbouring countries such as Sweden and Finland have managed almost as well as Norway without the benefits of oil and natural gas and in the main without fisheries and seafaring. At the same time growth in Scandinavia has been stronger than in the rest of Europe.

In this connection it is probably important that the Norwegian way to the affluent society still goes through the intensified exploitation of marine/maritime resources. Norway is thus in a fortunate situation because of its access to rich natural resources, but growth and prosperity depend on a lot more than just luck and chance. Industrial adaptation has been followed up and prepared by a government that is both willing to control and thinks long term, especially as regards the petroleum industry.

It is remarkable that a small country like Norway managed, right from the start in the mid-1960s, to secure government control and thereby a socially balanced economic development of the extraction of oil from the North Sea, which technologically is extremely demanding. It was a field that until then had been dominated internationally by some of the world’s largest private and "imperialist" companies, "The Seven Sisters".

Further to this image, that same little country has been able to carry out steadily more technically demanding and complicated extraction and pipe-laying projects over the last 20–30 years. A spectacular example is the Troll A platform from 1985, which is 472 metres high with 15 times more iron reinforcement than the Eiffel Tower.

During the towing from its construction site at Hinnavåg near Stavanger to the designated field in the North Sea, the superstructure – a massive processing plant built by Aker Stord – was lifted into position with millimetre precision at Vats in Vindafjorden. This is the largest structure ever moved by man: nothing else comes anywhere close.

We may also add that the Troll Field was, until the discovery of today’s Shtokman Field, the world’s largest gas field at sea, and that Statfjord was for a time the world’s largest oilfield at sea. Today’s extraction technology is even more advanced, using remote-controlled underwater devices having no need for platforms.

The world’s longest underwater pipeline, the Langeled pipeline, joins the gas field Ormen Lange, north of Kristiansund, to Easington in northern England, a distance of about 1,200 km.

Picture: Ekofisk 2/4 T was the world’s first concrete construction built for petroleum operations. It was built in Stavanger in 1971–73 as a storage tank for oil when bad weather prevented the use of loading buoys. In 1989 an extra concrete protecting wall was added around the tank because the seabed had sunk. Ekofisk 2/4 T was closed down in 1998.
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