When the oil industry comes together in Stavanger for this year's Offshore Northern Seas Conference it will be with mixed feelings. The disastrous trends in the international economy, with stock prices falling through the floor and fortunes evaporating overnight, really give us all something to think about.
In Norway, which has gradually become dependent on an oil industry that repeatedly makes new investments to protect the country's jobs, there are many danger signals. It is many years since major discoveries were located on the Norwegian continental shelf. And the discovery rate in the latest licensing rounds has been disappointingly low. Earnings are on the decline, not only for the oil companies, but also, importantly, for the supplier industry. In many ways the Norwegian oil industry has reached a turning point, when the suppliers have to adapt to a lower market, whilst oil companies have to find alternative methods of protecting future growth and earnings.
The situation is reflected in this year's ONS, when the Conference will take up topics of alternative and more environment-friendly sources of energy. Norway - as a key supplier of energy to Europe - is in a special position, since the cry for greener energy can only get more urgent. That means coal power will be replaced by clean gas, or other energy carriers, which Norway has in abundance.
We are moving towards the Hydrogen Age, when hydrogen will replace coal, oil and gas as our fuel of choice. And the most immediate natural source of hydrogen is natural gas. As a major producer of gas it is vital that Norwegian oil companies and Norwegian supplier industry get on board for this development.
Similarly it is vital to develop new technology that will improve the commerciality of Norwegian oil and gas fields. It is only through an active and dedicated research commitment that it will be possible to achieve the aims staked out for sustainable growth.
Society will therefore make great demands of the oil companies and energy providers and the competent authorities to get development work moving along smartly. At today's pace it will still take many decades before we find energy forms to replace fossil fuels at a tolerable price.
For all these reasons I am looking forward with great interest to this year's Conference, which will focus on what is perhaps one of the most important discussions in Europe - namely how to secure energy supplies for a sustainable future. It is vital that the industry sets a long-term perspective for its Conference, so that public opinion is alerted to the highly important debate that is even now taking place in the industry.
Anders J Steensen
At today's pace it will still take many decades before we find energy forms to replace fossil fuels at a tolerable price.