As is true in many nations, strong and prosperous collaborative links between industry and academia are a hallmark of Norwegian research and innovation (R&I) and contributes to ensuring knowledge based industrial development and to secure competitiveness and productivity. The oil and gas sector is no different in this regard. One example of this is the agreement between Equinor and Norwegian higher education institutions (HEIs) by which large sums of funding have been allocated by the former to the latter since 2009. This collaboration, called Akademiaavtalen, was renewed recently with a transfer of NOK 315 million for the 2019-2024 period.
This is not without controversy. Apart from industry actors, the state is also represented by the Norwegian Research Council (NRC). However, funds do not always aim to prolong the oil age. For instance, in the above mentioned Akademiaavtalen, 40 percent of the funds are allocated to petroleum research, while renewables and digitalization are allocated 40 and 20 percent respectively. NRC allocates funds through its PETROMAKS2 and PETROSENTER programs, while other funding is directed through for instance the ENERGIX program for research on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). Actors within the oil and gas sector also initiate and allocate resources to renewables projects like in the offshore wind project HyWind, and also participate in renewables-oriented programs like ENERGIX.
The GreenBlack project examines this intersection of the green and the black with the purpose of determining how research financing contributes either to prolonging the oil age or to a green transition. Investigating recipients of oil and gas related financing the project asks: 1) how does research funding and joint industry-academic activity shape the directionality of knowledge communities, 2) what strategies exist for securing funds to knowledge production and innovation activities, and 3) what R&I activity do these strategies allow for?
The Norwegian oil and gas (O&G) sector is part of a shifting landscape that likely will face considerable challenges in the years to come. Thee future of gas demand in Europe is in decline after, but also possibly before, 2030, unless natural gas can be decarbonized (Stern 2019). The increasing inability to convince the public of the rationale for continued use of fossil fuels has been made evident within the recent years, and examples range from school strikes to climate lawsuits. In the face of these developments, technologies for achieving decarbonization of the O&G sector have yet to be developed on a large scale and are not viable without significant subsidies (NTNU 2017:66). However, we have in the past years seen traditional oil companies make substantial efforts to transform themselves into energy companies with expanded repertoires needed to face the impending energy transition. This poses the question of what role O&G companies have in achieving a sustainability transition.
The GreenBlack project investigates how the Norwegian O&G sector is meeting the sustainability challenge. We consider the role of knowledge and knowledge networks to bring about this change imperative, embedded as they are within a broader political economy that serve to structure the Norwegian O&G sector. Thus, rather than conceptualizing the O&G industry as a mere incumbent, and in recognizing the existential role of the O&G sector for Norway, this project will examine how the state and the industry together facilitate and maintain specific knowledge economies that both sustain the role of fossil fuels and provide real leverage for the O&G sector, and in turn the nation, to expand into a future renewable energy economy with global reach. Thus, the main object of this project will be to study the shape and trajectories of O&G related research funding and the knowledge economies thus engendered.