Norway’s royal couple promenades around cutting-edge offshore technology

The Offshore Technology Conference got a little more regal on Monday.

Norway’s striking royal couple, the Crown Prince Haakon and his wife, the Crown Princess Mette-Marit made their way on Monday morning through blowout preventers and subsea wells, as they toured the exhibit hall of the Offshore Technology Conference and the Norwegian Pavilion.

The visit comes as Norwegian oil and gas technology companies are working to expand their presence in Houston, recognizing it as the gateway to the international market. Energy production is Norway’s largest industry, accounting for nearly a quarter of its annual gross national product. Its second largest industry sector is oil and gas technology -- an area that the government hopes will continue to grow, to stave off concerns about reduced production in the North Sea.

The visit comes 40 years after the Prince’s father, then Crown Prince Harald, made his first visit to the conference in 1973, just four years after oil was first discovered in Norway.

“Forty years ago, the oil and gas industry in Norway was very much in its infant stages,” Haakon told FuelFix. “It’s a come a long way, as you can see here at OTC. There’s a lot of new technology and a lot of new companies that are working at the forefront of technology innovation in the offshore sector, so it’s been quite a development.”

Norwegian embassy officials have spent the last six months arranging the visit, hoping that it will help strengthen business ties between Houston and Norway.

“The fact that the royal couple is coming here marks the importance of Houston to Norway,” said Jostein Mykletun, Norwegian Consul General. “This is Norway’s most important energy hub outside of Norway. Houston has more than 150 Norwegian companies related to the offshore energy industry, and is home to more than 10,000 Norwegian expatriates. More than 2,000 Norwegians are attending this year’s conference, Mykletun said.

The royal couple will visit a research facility at ExxonMobil on Monday afternoon and attend a gala dinner on Monday evening for about 500 attendees connected to the oil and gas industry.

“The significance of the Crown Prince’s visit is great, because it makes us able to attract the top people from the oil and gas industry,” said Bjorn Akselsen, commercial consul for the Royal Norwegian Consulate General, noting that the royal visit has created a buzz of energy around Innovation Norway all day. “There are so many competitive events and so many competitive companies right in this area of the conference, but we are able to attract the right people on a high level – Americans coming to meet the Norwegian industry, with the events we have planned. We are getting a lot more attention, since we have the minister of petroleum and the royal couple coming here to see us.”

Haakon was gracious in acknowledging the long-standing and symbiotic relationship between the two countries.

“The relationship between Norway and Houston is strong and long-lasting,” said Crown Prince Haakon, speaking at a Sunday night gala dinner that kicked off the conference. “The Norwegian explorer Leif Ericson crossed the ocean in the 900s to discover America – or at least, that’s what we like to think – and an American company discovered oil in Norway, when Ekofisk was discovered by Phillips Petroleum.”

At the conference, the couple generated a crowd of admirers, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, who proudly told them, “We’ve got a great Norwegian community here – and a great Swedish one, too.”