Partnerships for the future

Two collaboration agreements meant a great deal for Statoil’s steps towards becoming a technologically competent operative company in its early years.
By Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
- Drilling on Ross Rig. Photo: Leif Berge/Equinor

While one with Esso involved learning about exploration, the other covered lessons from Mobil in developing the big Statfjord field in the North Sea.[REMOVE]Fotnote: The section on collaboration with Esso is based largely on Hanisch, T and Nerheim, G, 1992, Fra vantro til overmot?, vol 1, Norsk petroleumshistorie, Norwegian Petroleum Society, Leseselskapet, Oslo: 370-372. The section on collaboration with Esso is based largely on Moland, Elisabeth Ugland, 2011, Fra lærling til mester: Kunnskap og kompetansebygging i Statoil årene 1972–1986, master’s thesis, University of Agder, Kristiansand, accessed at

Assistance with exploration and production

During the discussions in the Storting (parliament) on the award of key and boundary blocks in the Norwegian North Sea, doubts were raised about whether Statoil had the capabilities required to conduct drilling on its own account. So when Esso offered the company a technical assistance pact as part of its application for third-round licences, this was greeted with great interest. Such an agreement would allow Statoil to acquire the necessary expertise.

Providing the companies were awarded licences, the deal was that Statoil would be able to place personnel in Esso’s operational organisation to gain experience. The US partner would initially have day-to-day responsibility for Statoil’s trainees and provide them with further education. As these personnel became qualified, Statoil would take over operational responsibility.

In addition to training in exploration drilling, Esso offered assistance with operating the Ross Rig drilling unit which Statoil had recently chartered.

When the Ministry of Industry awarded new exploration and production licences in November 1974, Statoil was appointed operator of production licence 038 – covering blocks 15/11, 15/12 and 6/3 – with Esso as technical operator. The training could begin.

Statoil’s first well, 15/12-1, was drilled in what later became known as the Sleipner area during July 1975. Esso was officially the technical assistant, but undoubtedly did the job in reality. The Statoil personnel were apprentices.[REMOVE]Fotnote:, 4 July 2000. Accessed at The well was dry, but the Norwegians secured the experience they needed to stand on their own feet and establish a technologically competent organisation.

The following year, Statoil took its qualifying test by drilling a first well on its own account. It was again drilled from Ross Rig, this time with success, in block 1/9 close to Ekofisk. The structure was named Tommeliten Alpha.

One goal had been reached. The company had the in-house expertise to serve as an exploration operator.

Collaboration over Statfjord

While Statoil was learning how to drill and operate its own exploration rig, another department of the company began a training programme in field development. This was based on a collaboration agreement with Mobil for production licence 037, which embraced the Norwegian share of the Statfjord discovery. Developing this field was to be crucial in building up sufficient expertise at Statoil for it to become a fully qualified operator on a producing field.

The licence terms specified that Statoil could take over the Statfjord operatorship after 10 years. It then had to become familiar with the field. Mobil undertook to transfer the necessary expertise, with Statoil involved in as many as possible of the processes and decisions relating to Statfjord.

As a result, the young company followed at close hand and participated actively in the development of one of the world’s largest offshore oil fields.

Statoil started building up a shadow organisation which was intended ultimately to take over completely. This expanded rapidly, from a couple of hundred staff to almost a thousand.

The company had “the right to have a reasonable number of its employees work with the operator to achieve appropriate training of Statoil’s personnel at different levels”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Hanisch, T and Nerheim, G, op.cit: 370.

Initially, Mobil contributed the most important share of the labour force and the technology. But it was under way with training up Statoil employees from as early as 1973. A number of the latter were sent around the world to the US company’s various training facilities. The Dallas research centre was frequently used. During seismic surveys on Statfjord, Statoil was represented by a person who observed and worked with Mobil’s exploration group in London.

While many went abroad to train, several learning opportunities became available at home. Engineers from Statoil were seconded for long periods to Mobil’s internal organisation in Stavanger during the winter of 1974-75. Statoil requested that these personnel be given challenging assignments, and they were expected to have opportunities for to participate actively in all areas of the work.

To lead the actual development, Mobil established a separate project task force for each platform. This was where the largest number of Statoil personnel were seconded. While the task forces reported directly to Mobil, their members could be required by Statoil to provide the information it wanted. That meant the company could take care of all its interests – without being the operator.

Statoil established a separate department in 1975 to represent it in all matters relating to Statfjord. Led by Olav K Christiansen, this team worked closely with the company’s other units.

The collaboration with Mobil over developing Statfjord was crucial for Statoil’s build-up of expertise and for fitting it to take on larger assignments – such as the Gullfaks operatorship.


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