Statoil seeks to shake off politics

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The Norwegian state still owns 67 percent of the shares in Norwegian oil company Statoil, but the company itself wants to shed some of the political terms under which it’s run. Top politicians, however, don’t seem likely to give the country’s largest firm a lot more freedom to do what it wants.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, busy opening Statoil's new Gudrun platform in the North Sea, has called on Jonas Gahr Støre to clarify his position on oil and gas exploration and production. At far right, Statoil CEO Helge Lund looks on as Solberg is greeted by platform boss Ole Martin Bakken. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Politicians are regularly visiting Statoil’s operations, like here when Prime Minister Erna Solberg formally opened the company’s new Gudrun platform in the North Sea. The state still owns a majority stake in Statoil, but the company now seems to want less political meddling. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Monday that it had obtained a copy of an internal strategy presentation created by Gine Wang, a former politician for the Socialist Left party (SV) who now is responsible for political and community contact for the company.

The goals of the new strategy are to update methods for “dialogue” with the public, to secure Statoil’s license to operate and generate more public acceptance for its business decisions and the industrial framework it needs, to lessen the political terms governing its commercial activity and to narrow a perceived gap between Statoil’s interests and the interests of Norwegian society.

Wish-list
The strategy document also presents a long wish-list for the years leading up to 2020. Statoil wants more public support for its ongoing internationalization, for example, and it wants to generate a climate-friendly image and more positive comments in social media. As it does business in what it calls “The Age of Engagement,” the strategy presentation suggests that Statoil is subject to more criticism and higher expectations from a public that bases its views more on “feelings” than on facts.

Jannik Lindbæk, information director at Statoil, told DN that the strategy presentation doesn’t represent a new overall communications strategy for the company but rather how “dialogue” between the company and the public could develop over the next several years. Asked what’s meant by a desire to “depoliticize” Statoil’s commercial operations, Lindbæk merely wants to continue the development of Statoil as a commercial company since it was first stocklisted. “The company went from a situation where politicians had direct political influence over it to being a commercial company,” Lindbæk said. Politicians could no longer engage in “detail management,” Lindbæk noted, “and we want such a division of roles to continue.”

‘Bad idea’
Terje Lien Aasland, energy policy spokesman for the Labour Party, told DN it would be a bad idea to further distance Statoil from its majority owner, the state. He said there must be no doubt that Statoil remains a state company, and he’s glad Norway’s conservative government wants to maintain the state’s stake at 67 percent.

“Statoil shall not be detail-managed by the Parliament,” Aasland told DN, but added that Statoil’s interests don’t always fall in line with society’s. “If Statoil’s intention is to tone down the political aspects and have more freedom of operations, I’m against it.”

Leif Sande, leader of the powerful labour Industri Energi union at Statoil, was also critical, claiming that Statoil already has a lot of commercial freedom with little to complain about.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund