by Mikael Holter
After the surprise election of Donald Trump, the head of Norway’s biggest oil company headed to Washington D.C. this month looking for reassurance. He came away as worried as ever.
“I was looking for clarity, also some guidance, good advice, and also some people to talk to — new relationships within the administration,” Statoil ASA Chief Executive Officer Eldar Saetre told a conference in Oslo on Thursday. “I have to be honest with you — I didn’t get much of any of it.”
Saetre, whose company has stakes in three U.S. onshore areas and in the Gulf of Mexico, was concerned about the protectionist bent of the new president’s rhetoric. Combined with last year’s Brexit vote and looming elections in Europe where nationalists are gaining influence, he sees Trump’s victory as a threat to global free trade.
“From Brexit to Trump, we see warning signs that globalization could be going in reverse,” Saetre said at the annual Swedbank Energy Summit. “For our industry, I believe that would be very negative.”
Trump’s energy policies could benefit oil producers in the U.S. by loosening regulations and freeing up more areas for drilling. However, his protectionist agenda could affect economic growth and trading relations with countries from neighboring Mexico to Asia.
“Global collaboration and integrated markets have been and will remain key to make our industry prosper,” Saetre said. “Fair, open access to markets are keys to enable investments, value creation and jobs in our industry.”
Cross-border cooperation is also essential to solve climate change, making it “more important than ever,” Saetre said. Trump signaled during his campaign he could pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreement to limit global warming, which he has called a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.
Statoil, which is 67 percent owned by the Norwegian government, is one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies with production of almost 2 million barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2016. It gets more than a third of its output from overseas.
Saetre made the trip to Washington on his way to the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston this month, which drew energy industry bosses from Moscow to Riyadh.
He has asked his staff to set up a new trip to the U.S. in the hope of a better outcome.