Found his field

19.05.2015
A long-standing fascination with the petroleum industry meant young government geologist Fredrik Hagemann was quick to shift from seeking water to oil prospecting when the chance came in 1966. He later became the NPD’s first director general.
  • Bjørn Rasen (text and photos)

Fredrik Hagemann

Fredrik Hagemann headed the NPD from its creation in 1972 until 1996.
His portrait hangs in the directorate.

 

The year after the first licences were awarded on the NCS, Hagemann secured a temporary job with the Ministry of Industry’s mining office.

Here he joined lawyer Nils B Gulnes (see separate article) and engineer Olav K Christiansen. “Some seismic surveys had been done, but we knew little at that time,” he recalls.

Hagemann had previously worked on water exploration with the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU), and his colleagues thought he was mad to leave such a good job.

“I didn’t actually get a permanent appointment to begin with,” he observes. “I was on leave of absence from the NGU for the first year.”

He is also quick to deny any involvement with the NGU’s notorious comment in a letter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in February 19578.

This put matters bluntly: “The chances of finding coal, oil or sulphur on the continental shelf off the Norwegian coast can be discounted.”

Hagemann notes that the definition of what constituted Norway’s coastline was crucial. The boundary negotiations with the UK in the North Sea were like going back a millennium.

“We hadn’t pursued territorial claims since the Viking Age,” Hagemann points out. “The base line was set at the outermost islets, and our negotiators knew every rock at low tide.

“That meant we got our boundary pushed further west. And that’s obviously interesting when we see the big North Sea discoveries close to or straddling the boundary.”

Unlike the NGU, the trio in the mining office believed in the potential, he says. “Everyone else was pessimistic, including the politicians and industry.

 

“We can moreover thank God that the politicians didn’t interfere with us. We were able to put a lot in place during the early years before Ekofisk became a reality.”

 

The mention of this field brings up the story of the way its discoverer, Phillips Petroleum, tried to secure a licence for the whole NCS in exchange for investing in an exploration programme.

Submitted in 1962, the company’s request remained unanswered until 1986 – when the ministry admitted that it had taken some time to reply, but that the application was regretfully rejected.

Hagemann says that this response was sent after 24 years because Phillips used every festive occasion to remind the government that no answer had been received.

“The ministry was formally responsible for issuing the rejection, since the letter from Phillips had been addressed to it.” 

 

Surveys

Once the companies had launched their seismic surveys, it quickly became clear that the NGU’s conclusion was wrong.

Hagemann began visiting the companies to study their seismic charts, which was not well received in the ministry. The feeling was that the companies should come to it, not the other way round.

In addition, Jens Evensen – the foreign ministry official who played a key role in organising Norway’s offshore activities – had issued strict instructions to avoid corruption.

“We explained that this was only for practical reasons,” says Hagemann. “And we wanted to learn. Nobody opposed or checked up on us. The companies had been bluntly told not to try anything. We got no more than cup of coffee.” 

 

Pessimism

After 33 wells without a serious commercial discovery, pessimism began to spread and Phillips tried to avoid the final drilling operation in its lowest-priority licence.

“However, the small print in the terms said that the operator would have to pay the government what a well would have cost if it deviated from the work programme,” Hagemann recalls.

“Combined with its long-term charter for Ocean Viking, that persuaded Phillips to drill the final well – and discover Ekofisk in 1969. Without that, we’d have had a big delay on the NCS.”

Optimism continued to prevail in the mining office. Hagemann consoled himself with the thought that the wells so far were pinpricks – not enough to write off a whole continental shelf.

He also points to the recent Johan Sverdrup discovery, where earlier wells had been drilled only a few hundred metres away without locating the reservoir.

 

Head

Hagemann applied to head the new NPD in 1972, and held that job until 1990. He served as acting director general for another six years while successor Gunnar Berge continued his political career.

The move from Oslo to Stavanger was welcome, not least to his family. He found that the latter city had prepared better plans for hosting the NPD and state oil company Statoil than rivals Bergen and Trondheim.

“I sat on a committee which assessed these locations,” he recalls. “We asked Trondheim what it could offer in the way of homes for employees – and the answer was that they could join a housing cooperative.

“And Bergen envisaged that the NPD could obtain offices in a fire-damaged factory which had been used for manufacturing safes.”

At the age of 86, Hagemann has retained his interest in the oil industry and still gives presentations, mostly based on a single overhead – the map of the NCS.

He feels that “a lot of strange things” are being said about the industry today, but wants to avoid taking part in the debate – almost.

“I’ve always maintained that we can’t write off the Barents Sea,” he emphasises. “We’ve only made some pinpricks there. Interest vanished for a while, but it’s back again now.”

 

Maps of the Norwegian continental shelf from 1965 to 2014.

Maps of the Norwegian continental shelf from 1965 to 2014.