|June 5: All about oil
Stavanger is Norway's oil and offshore capital and since 1999 home to the 'Norsk Oljemuseum'.
You can't really miss it. The modern building of steel, granite plates and glass stands next to the ferry terminal in the centre of Stavanger. It has three circular outbuilds on pillars just off the quay and a large open court on the entrance side. The place is straddled with heavy equipment from the offshore oil and gas industry. The building is a fitting tribute to the sudden wealth that happened to this country some 40 years ago.
Funny enough, it was the discovery of the Dutch gas field at Slochteren in 1959 that drew the attention of US oil explorers like Phillips Petroleum Company to the North Sea basin. It might well be that the geological structures under the Netherlands extended under the sea, they argued. And how right they were.
To cut a long story short, first oil off Norway's coast was drawn in 1967. Two years later Phillips discovered the Ekofisk field off the coast of Norway – it proved to be Europe's biggest oil field.
The frenzy it created, the nationalisation of the oil industry (in the form of Statoil and Norsk Hydro), the technological challenges and the development of a specialised offshore industry – it all comes to life in the Oil Museum.
If you follow the numbers in museum guide – and not your curiosity – you will be presented with a historic overview of the natural history of oil, the societal consequences and the geopolitical games behind oil.
Next, after a short reference to Norway as the land of seafarers (think Vikings), a series of show cases with scale models along the glass wall overlooking the harbour, explain in delicate detail the solutions engineers have come up with to drill and pump oil at ever increasing depths.
One exceptional technique deserves mentioning: the gravity based structure. It is an enormously large cement base that supports entire integrated production facilities. The tallest of such structures for the Troll-A field (a million tonnnes of water displacement) was the largest structure ever moved by man. It now stands on the seabed, 300 meters under water and towers 140 meters above the waves.
Very large scale models in the exhibition show the immense complexity of the offshore factories.
But then, these structures have to survive and operate in a hostile environment of the deep North Sea. And that sometimes fails. A large area of the museum is dedicated to the failures and mishaps of this young industry. It particularly commemorates the capsized Alexander Kielland oil rig (March 27, 1980), an incident that has cost 123 lives.
The Oil Museum has it all: a magnificent location, a splendid building (Louis Kloster, 1992), a unique collection of genuine industrial historic objects (including a diving bell and a submarine working vessel) and a 3D-film targeted at a general audience.
For technology minded visitors, this museum will make a satisfying trip. For the non-buffs, the best part may be found in the middle offshore installation where a film and a model of the sea floor succeed in conveying the technological challenges and triumphs of laying a pipe line across the 400 meter deep Norwegian trench to a lay-audience.
As for the museum shop, just buy the excellent museum catalogue (Norwegian Petroleum Museum) and skip the rest. It's the same stuff as in any other science museum.