Norway’s North Sea Divers Lost Their Minds Over Oil
Norway used to be a country of fishermen, lumberjacks, and guys who were really good at skiing across barren fields for days on end. The rest of Scandinavia looked down their noses at their simple whale-eating cousins. Half the Swedish joke book is made up of stories and one-liners that boil down to: “Norwegians are dumb. LOL.” In the land of black metal, it was said, everyone drank moonshine and fought in the street just to stave off the boredom. The Swedes are still making jokes about those hick Norwegians and my friend Tom, who is from somewhere near the Arctic circle, says the whole ‘fights ‘n’ moonshine’ thing is still how they entertain themselves there, but these days the Swedish jokes are full of envy and the moonshine drinking is just for kicks.
That’s because Norway, once one of Europe’s poorest countries, was changed beyond recognition by the arrival of that most precious and deadly of modern commodities: oil. From 1969 onward, huge oil and gas deposits were discovered in the North Sea. The great ocean depths along the Norwegian coast kept the oil from being piped ashore. To lay a pipeline this far down, the Norwegian authorities financed a series of test dives, with the American diving industry helping develop safe methods to allow divers to work up to 400 meters beneath the waves. Vast sums of money lay in wait for anyone who could exploit these resources. Here, in the North, was a new wild west.
At first, foreign companies dominated exploration of the Norwegian continental shelf. These companies were responsible for developing the country’s first oil and gas fields, but in 1972 the Norwegian government created Statoil and the principle of 50 percent state participation in each production license was established. On June 10, 1981, the Norwegian parliament approved development plans for a pipeline that would take oil and gas from the cold North Sea to the mainland. The construction was in the hands of the State. Choosing to pipe the petroleum resources to the mainland made Norway one of the world’s wealthiest countries.