Bridging the Atlantic

Business leaders from Norway and North Dakota gathered at the Grant Hotel Tuesday afternoon to talk about ways to foster collaboration and seek mutually-beneficial business partnerships.

Close to a dozen speakers talked at the Norsk-Dakota B2B Forum about their respective companies or organizations, and how they all wanted to strengthen their business ties across the Atlantic Ocean.

Torstein Hole, senior vice president of U.S. Onshore, Statoil, spoke about the energy company’s international presence in oil and gas production. The company, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012, has a large presence in offshore drilling.

“We have a very long history of working in challenging environments – harsh and sensitive environments at the same time,” Hole said. “There are probably no places in the world that are more challenging to work than an offshore oil well.

Hole called HSE, which stands for health, safety and environment, the company’s top priority.

Statoil has a large footprint in the United States, including the Bakken. Hole said communication is the key to doing business with Statoil, which is a point that is stressed both to employees and other companies.

“We believe that sharing information with partners and sharing information with service companies working for us and with authorities and with land owners and also with people who are not positive to our activities, that brings the business forward,” Hole said. “It’s much better to understand people’s views and to discuss based on facts and based on an exchange of views than to not talk at all.”

Terje Riis Johansen, mayor of Telemark County in Norway, gave the room a hard and humorous sell on all the benefits of doing business in Telemark, as opposed to pretty much any other place in Europe. In addition to companies in North Dakota doing business with their counterparts in Norway in general and Telemark in particular, he also wants Norwegian businesses to be more engaged in North Dakota.

He called northern Europe more stable than other parts of the continent, with Telemark, which is located in southeast Norway, the most desirable location of all.

“You cannot go to the north because it’s too cold, (and) you cannot go to the west because it’s too rainy,” Johansen said to laughter from those in the room. “You have to go to the southeast where the sun is shining and the climate is the best.”

Johansen also noted the areas east and west of Telemark are either too expensive or too overpopulated, making his home county the sort of Goldilocks zone of not just Norway, but Europe, as well.

“So you see, if you go to Europe, you end up here,” he said, pointing to Telemark on a map, which got more laughter from the room.

Getting a little more serious, he said Telemark’s business sector has grown tremendously and its people are incredibly hard-working, which is something North Dakotans can relate to.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said being able to put crude oil on railcars for shipment to the coasts was a huge development that gave a tremendous boost to the economics of doing business in the Bakken.

“When you get your commodity to the coast, you now fetch world price, which helps those economics,” Ness said.

He said in 2007 oil production was 100,000 barrels a day. Today that number is 874,000. He said finding markets for the crude oil and other byproducts from the oil fields has been the key to attracting capital for further investment.

Looking to the near future, Ness sees the Bakken hitting a major milestone when it’s able to start producing one million barrels of crude oil per day. Although he couldn’t confidently give a specific time when that would happen, his best guess was in March or April of next year.

Jacek Mrozik, interim dean of the Minot State University College of Business, spoke about MSU’s energy program, which was spurred by all the activity in the Bakken. He said the energy economics and finance major began four years ago and focuses on preparing students for analytical jobs in the energy industry.

Some of the things he said they teach students to do is focus on risk assessment, financial analysis, business analysis, project analysis, pricing analysis, spreadsheet analysis, corporate planning and renewable and nonrenewable energy sources.

“We decided that we cannot focus on everything so we just take one thing, and this is energy economics and financing, and try to grow it knowing that there are other schools in North Dakota that specialize in other areas like geology and things like that,” Mrozik said. “We just think we cannot do everything because we are too small.”

Mrozik said it was actually many of the companies currently working in the Bakken that helped MSU narrow down the options on what type of energy degree it would offer.

“What they tell us is the people who analyze are getting older and older in the oil industry here in North Dakota,” Mrozik said.

As the experienced analysts have retired, energy companies have tried to plug engineers into those jobs. Mrozik said MSU was told it would be much cheaper and more efficient for energy companies if college graduates could be hired and dedicated to that one specific task.

“So we felt OK, this is our niche and this is how we try to develop it,” he said. “This is how we try to teach (students) and contribute to the industry.”