Norway's petroleum fairy tale

When the first profitable oil deposits were found on the Norwegian continental shelf, Norway was a nation where shipping and fishing were king. Not any more.

Illustrasjonsbilde/FOTO

Oil has made Norway into one of the world’s richest countries – something for which experts and technology from NTNU can take much of the credit.

In 1970, the first profitable oil deposit was found on the Norwegian continental shelf. For a small country like Norway, that meant both enormous opportunities and income. But there was lots of work to be done before the find could begin to pump out oil. And someone had to do the work.

But Norway didn’t have any experience with oil. There were no academics in key areas, such as petroleum technology and petroleum geology. But Norway did have well-established expertise in other technical areas that could be useful, such as building ships and working with steel, and building bridges and dams from cement. And we had expertise in chemical engineering, and mineral resources engineering.

These engineers for the most part were educated at NTH, the Norwegian Institute of Technology. Not surprisingly, NTH played a key role in developing the knowledge and technology needed to exploit the black gold under the sea.

From ships to oil
It may seem hard to believe today, but when Norway's first oil find had some Norwegian politicians saying that they thought the Americans ought to be asked to develop it, because it would be impossible for Norwegians to do so. They were embarrassingly wrong. In a relatively short time, and with the help of research, we were able to transform ourselves from a shipping nation into an oil nation. The reason why this oil fairy tale became reality was the expertise we had in shipping technology, which along with marine technology made it possible for Norway to be a part of

NTH’s key role
Johannes Moe, NTH’s rector from 1972-1976, believed that the expertise that was needed on the continental shelf must be found in Norwegian brains. Otherwise, Norway would never have the chance to control the technological solutions that were chosen.

The education offered at NTH had to centre around petroleum technology to guarantee Norway’s oil wealth, there was no doubt about it. So in 1975, NTH graduated its first class of petroleum engineers. In time, many NTH graduates took important positions in the oil industry.

Moe was the father of an idea that the Norwegian Ministry of Industry first put to use in 1978: When licenses were given out to develop oil on the Norwegian continental shelf, at least 50 percent of the research needed to develop the field would have to be undertaken in Norway. This agreement loosed a landslide of initiatives in oil-related research. Delegation after delegation landed at the Trondheim airport with experts from the big international oil companies. They wanted to get to know the expertise and the laboratories at SINTEF and NTH before they submitted proposals to the Norwegian government.

Valuable research
Research in Trondheim has guaranteed that Norway has the petroleum expertise it needs in drilling technology, multiphase transport and construction.

The development of drilling technology has been extremely important. Just 20 years ago, oil in the Troll field was considered to be too difficult and unprofitable to develop. But with new drilling technology, eventually it was possible to drill vertically to horizontally. That expanded the reach from platforms and made it possible to extract more oil from every well. These new horizontal wells can be credited with producing 2 billion barrels of oil. Developing technology and expertise have created enormous wealth in Norway.