Sunday, 21 February 2010

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Movie time

Today I wanted to experiment with linking my blog to some videos I have posted on YouTube. Its great to be able to combine the strengths of Blogger, Picasa and Youtube. Enjoy!

My Stavanger apartment

Stavanger city center

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Socialism rears its (ugly) head

It seems tax shocks run in the family as I just got a tax bill for around R35k! Can you actually believe that?!! I almost fell backwards off my chair! And what is to blame for this? - scandinavian socialism thats what!

Ufffhh! Well, good news is that it should decrease somewhat next month as it is still taxing me at 50% (the default rate until your papers have been processed at the tax office) and they included some stuff from Jan that wasnt included yet, but my new tax rate is not much lower at 45% Then the other shock is that the "free" appartment is not exactly free. I must in fact pay 1% of annual salary each month as the minimum transition rent, and in addition pay tax on the "benefit", being the difference between what the landlord charges the company and this amount I paid. So effectively I pay around 65% of the rent amount which is pretty high since business apartment rents are always very inflated.

What I cant understand how this country is swimming in all the oil money, yet taxes are set at such a ridiculous level. Which business would set up shop here? I can understand they dont want to overheat the economy, but its not even that everything else is cheap - quite the opposite - food, clothes, rent - everything is expensive.

So what does the taxes get used on?? That is hard to find out - mostly from what I can see into a grey area called social grants. Ok, so the healthcare is apparently mostly free (excluding dentists who are expensive), schools are free and there is like a year maternaty leave and an array of child benefits, plus I bet there is a lot of unemployment benefits. Thing is - personally I dont get the benefit of any of this - so why must I pay for it? Isnt it more fair, that those that use the services (hospital, school), pay for it (or at least a larger percent).

Some would say that is is simply the price to pay for a "harmoneous" society, where you have the "right" to a good life, where no-one is poor (not many rich either), and everyone has equal chances (or so is the idea). As we know, in SA, it is precisely this huge wealth "gap" which creates the conditions for crime and consequently the violence that goes with it. So is the "harmoneous" society worth its price, or is the nanny state the route only to an entitlement culture and to a people that shun any personal responsibility?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Field trip to Kårstø

Today was pretty amazing. I joined a field trip to the Kårstø gas processing plant about an hour north of Stavanger. About 15 of us went in a bus which included a ferry trip as the complex is on an island. The first thing that we could see were the burning gas flares (actually done only when there is maintainance work)  and then you notice the huge size of the complex - its Europes largest export port of Natural Gas Liquids and the worlds third largest. Over 500 shiploads of the stuff is exported each year.

So what actually happens here? Well, basically rich gas from a number of offshore fields is piped in to the complex, and is then fractionated in tall towers into propane, butane, isobutane, naphtha and ethane (which, if I can remember correctly, go into making a huge number of products like plastics and as fuel in cars, jets and camping stoves). What was really interesting is that the propane is actually stored in two large caves drilled into the mountain. The water surrounding the halls turns to ice, creating a natural "fridge"in which it is stored.

After the briefing, we got to dress up in safety overalls and hardhats, and then got taken on a tour of the complex. We got to see the central control room - a nerve center filled with huge computer screens, from which all operations are managed. I was surprized that although it is very industrial, it is also very neat and tidy. Also I had no idea how they could keep track of which pipe does what as there are literally hundreds of pipes all over! We then were shown the 658km long Europipe II which transports gas to the continent via Germany. The diameter of pipeline is around 107cm and can transport up to 24 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year! Its an amazing sight to see this pipe which transports the gas that heats hundreds of thousands of homes as it actually dissapears into the ground.

The important part for me was to see the Naturkraft combined cycle gas-to-power plant which is one of the projects I will be working on. Its a 420MW plant which in simple terms will operate when the electricity price is greater than the gas plus CO2 permit price.

After that, we had a very satisfying lunch and then it was time again to catch the ferry back to Stavanger.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Central vacuuming???

You may have heard of central heating before, but have you ever hear of central vacuuming?
Well, me neither...

I must admit I was quite sceptical, when, having informed the housing department that I had found a vacuum cleaning pipe in my wash room but no actual machine, they told me to look for a hole in the wall into which to insert it. I was seriously thinking there was something missing in translation there, but nevertheless, I decided to humor them and look for this "hole-in-wall" (like who would actually put a hole in the wall...). I searched everywhere, and was beginning to think they may have been pulling my leg, when, lo-and-behold, behind the TV I found a socket in which the end of the vacuum cleaner pipe fits! hahaha! who would have thought. The on/off switch is on the head of the pipe, which as you may guess, is quite a long pipe that can get around the whole house. You learn something new every day!

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Around Stavanger

I finally managed to unpack and arrange everything, so this is my first “free” weekend. Since the weather was so great today (still snow and ice on the ground, but beautiful sunshine) I decided it was time to do some serious exploring. Below are pictures from the town (I walked really far as you can see!). You can find my full set of pictures on Picasa by clicking here: Picasa Pictures

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Stavanger celebrity :-)

Today I was on the front page of the local paper as well as pages 81-83! (yes, I think it is difficult to fill a local daily newspaper in Stavanger :-))  Our team is very international (8/13 are non-Norwegian), so the local paper decided to do an article on us for the Wednesday job supplement. They asked us what attracted us to come to Norway and why we find Statoil a good company. Afterwards we did a little photo shoot which was pretty fun! There was a picture of us on the front page as well as a full page picture on page 81 and a two page picture on the following pages. Below is the web version and I have used Google translator as of course it is in Norwegian, though I must say some sentences come out a bit odd. As I can’t read Norwegian, I don’t even know what the original means either - haha...
Link to translated newspaper article

Its actually pretty similar to what UBS did also. I remember they got the international graduates together and did a little video on why we joined UBS. In fact ironically (I say “it was an easy decision to join UBS...”), I am still the picture for graduate recruitment (see article and top left hand picture)!
Link to UBS graduate site

Friday, 5 February 2010

Course time again

The past three days I have been at a course called “Introducing the Statoil way” which is all about the history of the company, how it does things and its vision for the future. I got to meet about 20 other people from all over Norway who are also new to the company. Most of them are not Norwegian, so it shows how diverse the company is becoming. Not surprising really because as the production of oil starts to decline on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), so Statoil is investing in exploration in other parts of the world from the US and Canada to Venezuela, the Gulf of Mexico, Angola, Iraq and Azerbaijan. In fact I think its present in something like 60 countries. The problem as we were shown is the days of “easy-oil” is fast declining and the vast percentage of what is remaining is found in “operationally-difficult” areas such as the middle east and former soviet republics (FSRs). Speaking of acronyms, my head is spinning from trying to remember what they all stand for. For example, I work in NG SA EA which is Natural Gas, Strategy and Analysis, Economic Analysis. And this is an easy one! Some people I met have up to 6 acronyms, and it’s not limited to only the departments, but  it seems almost any identifier that is two words or more!

The final day was held at the Sola Strand hotel which is just outside of Stavanger and close to the beach. The photos below are from there. If you can't already tell, the water is cccccooold!

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Fairytale Stavanger

Plenty of snow here in Stavanger making this area, the old part  of town, look a bit like Santas village