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Monday, 30 December 2013 12:22

“I feel confident that the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Norway will be strengthened in the future” - Erling Skjonsberg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway to the Republic of Azerbaijan Featured

«We have had a considerable fall in production of oil the last 10-15 years. Today, our oil production is almost half of what it was in 2001. However, there has been an increase in the production of gas. This has offset some of the fall in production of oil. Accordingly the overall production from the Norwegian continental shelf has only had a small decrease», Erling Skjonsberg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway to the Republic of Azerbaijan, said in the exclusive interview to First Class.  

First Class FC: Both Azerbaijan and Norway has much in common both geographically and in the oil-gas industry, how do you assess cooperation of the two countries in the oil-gas industry and what would be the outlooks?

Erling Skjonsberg, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Kingdom of Norway to the Republic of Azerbaijan: The cooperation between Azerbaijan and Norway in the oil and gas sector has been very good ever since diplomatic relations were established 21 year ago. This goes both for the cooperation between the governments and between companies like Statoil and SOCAR.

Statoil has been active in Azerbaijan since 1992 and are partners in the Azeri-Chirac-Guneshli project as well as in the Shah Deniz project. Statoil has so far invested some USD 6 billion in Azerbaijan, and is looking for new opportunities. I am very pleased with the good cooperation between SOCAR and Statoil, and that several other Norwegian companies are also taking part in developing the oil-and gas sector in Azerbaijan. 

Azerbaijan’s history regarding oil and gas is more than 100 years longer than ours, but we can always learn from each other. One example is that a trip to Norway in 1998 by high Azerbaijani officials contributed to the establishment of SOFAZ. Another example is our cooperation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). 

The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Espen Barth Eide, visited Baku in January this year and discussed further cooperation in many fields, including energy. In late April I had the pleasure to accompany Mr. Natiq Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s minister of Industry and Energy, to Norway. I feel confident that the cooperation between Azerbaijan and Norway will be strengthened in the future, both regarding policy and management issues and regarding business.    

 

FC: How does Norway develop its non-oil sector, may it be assumed that alternative energy sources play an important role in this sphere? May this experience be shared with Azerbaijan?

Erling Skjonsberg: It is of course important to have a diversified economy and not to be too dependent on one sector. When it comes to energy, Norway is very fortunate to have ample hydro power resources. The hydro power sector has been crucial for the overall development and industrialization of Norway. Hydro power has been developed for the benefit of our society over the past hundred years. Today, hydropower accounts for nearly all our electricity production.    

The Government’s vision is that Norway shall be an environmentally friendly energy nation. The goal is to increase the share of renewable energy in the total energy consumption from about 60 per cent today to 67.5 per cent in 2020.

Norway is always ready to share its experience with Azerbaijan, as well as with other countries. I would like mention that Norway is co-funding a project with UNDP and the State Agency on Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources to develop renewable energy in Azerbaijan. Furthermore, we have on-going bilateral projects regarding energy saving - which is another important issue.  

 

FC: Does Norway support a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline? Do you think the market needs this project?

Erling Skjonsberg:Norway supports the right of all countries to freely choose the route of its export, as long as the route is compatible with international law and other obligations, such as with regard to technical and environmental safety. In my opinion it is good for any producing country to have several options for selling their gas. The demand for gas in Europe is increasing and a Trans-Caspian pipeline will help meeting this demand. It is up to Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan to agree on a pipeline. It should be viewed as a commercial undertaking like other large energy infrastructure projects.

 

FC: What could you tell about the present gas potential of Norway?

Erling Skjonsberg: If we look at both oil and gas, the petroleum industry is Norway’s largest industry. In 2012 the petroleum sector represented some 23 per cent of the country’s total value creation.

Norway faces the challenge of falling oil production. We have had a considerable fall in production of oil the last 10-15 years. Today, our oil production is almost half of what it was in 2001. However, there has been an increase in the production of gas. This has offset some of the fall in production of oil. Accordingly the overall production from the Norwegian continental shelf has only had a small decrease.

In 2012 Norway produced about 1.9 million barrels of oil (including NGL and condensate) and 111 billion standard cubic meters (Sm3) of gas. Norway is currently the 14th largest producer of oil and the 6rd largest producer of gas in the world. Regarding exports, Norway is the 7th largest oil exporter and 3rd largest gas exporter in the world. Looking ahead, we have so far produced somewhat more than 40 percent of our petroleum resources.

Norwegian gas export covers close to 20 per cent of European gas consumption. Most of the export goes to Germany, the UK, Belgium and France, where Norwegian gas accounts for between 20 and 40 per cent of the total gas consumption. Norwegian total gas sales are expected to peak at a level between 105 and 130 billion standard cubic meters (Sm3) in 2020. In 2025 sales are expected to be between 80 and 120 billion Sm3.   

 

FC: Do you agree with the great Norwegian traveller and seafarer who thoroughly studied Caspian (from the area of Azerbaijan) origins of the Norwegians?

Erling Skjonsberg: Thor Heyerdahl was a world citizen with an impressive life as an explorer, scientist and writer. He visited Azerbaijan in 1982, 1994 1999 and 2000. I think his theories about the ancient links between Azerbaijan and Scandinavia are intriguing.

In October 2011 the Azerbaijan University of Languages (AUL) and the University of Oslo organized a conference about Thor Heyerdahl and Azerbaijan here in Baku. The discussions were very interesting. Even if there is considerable disagreement about the theory, Thor Heyerdahl undoubtedly contributes to the good relationship between Azerbaijan and Norway.

On a more personal level, the above mentioned conference, as well as a Kon-Tiki exhibition in Baku last year, has given me the pleasure to meet both Thor Heyerdahl’s wife Jacqueline, his eldest son Thor Heyerdahl jr., as well as Thor Heyerdahl’s daughter Helene Elisabeth (also called “Bettina”). 

 

FC: What played an important role in your appointment as an ambassador to Azerbaijan?

Erling Skjonsberg: First of all Azerbaijan was on the top of my priority list. The Selection Panel in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should probably answer the rest of the question. I have experience from various fields and an interest in energy issues. In any case I have enjoyed my almost three years in Azerbaijan a lot, and my work is more than interesting.

 

FC: Which regions of Azerbaijan have you been to? Where did you like it most?

Erling Skjonsberg: Together with my wife I have travelled rather extensively in Azerbaijan. We have been to places like Lenkaran, Lerik, Massally and Yardimly in the south. Genja in the west and Quba and Qusar in the north-east. In February I had the great pleasure to try out the alpine skiing in Shakhdag.

I like all the places, but coming from a mountainous country like Norway I feel most at home at  the foot of the Great Caucasus. I can mention the scenery around the cities of Gebala, Sheiki, and Zakatala which I find very beautiful. And I have been four or five time to Lahic, another fascinating place. 

 

FC: What languages do you speak and do you plan to learn Azeri?

Erling Skjonsberg: Apart from Norwegian I speak English, some French and some German. I had great ambitions to learn a bit of Azeri, but it has been difficult to find time. My wife speaks much better than me. However, I have not given up – the response is always very positive when I manage to say a few words.  

 

FC: Which features do you mainly value in people?

Erling Skjonsberg: I find it crucial that people are honest and trustworthy. Another important quality is respect for other human beings, even if they are different in one way or the other (with regard to race, religion, nationality etc.). I like positive, kind and curious people, and a good sense of humour always helps.      

 

 

Thank you for the interview 

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