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Gas must replace coalEurope must choose between the climate or cheap power from coal combustion, says Martin Bachmann, Head of Exploration and Production in the German oil company Wintershall.

In recent years, several gas power plants have shut down due to a high renewable power production that push down the price of gas.- We see a dilemma between having affordable electricity to consumers and industry on one side, and reducing CO2 emissions on the other side, says Martin Bachmann, Head of Exploration and Production in the German oil company Wintershall.He is frequently visiting Norway to stay updated on the company's investments in the North Sea.- I am convinced that gas will play a bigger role in the European energy mix. Gas must replace coal if we are to succeed with climate and emission cuts, and to get lower electricity prices in the long term, says Bachman who is also board member in Wintershall.

Cheap coal has made gas much more expensive in Europe. Many German power plants are shut down because they lose in the competition against cheap coal. - We see stagnation in the European gas market. The demand for gas is low due to the fast growing renewable sector being subsidized by the government, says Bachmann.In recent years, Norwegian gas in particular has been squeezed by large expansions of renewable electricity production in countries such as Germany. Statkraft only has two gas power plants left in Germany, Knapsack II and part-owned Herdecke, which together produce roughly one TWh.- We made write-downs of two plants in Germany back in 2011 and 2012, and we have very low production from the two remaining power plants. At the moment we are awaiting the new German government's energy policy. Statkraft is currently investing only in renewable energy, says Knut Fjerdingstad, press officer in Statkraft.

Need more people
A survey done by the Norwegian Veritas earlier this year showed that Norway lacks qualified labor in the oil and gas sector.- The oil industry has a generation gap, particularly in the North Sea where the industry started in the 80's. Those who were employed at the time are now approaching retirement, and the companies are experiencing is a pressure to fill these jobs, says Bachmann. Colleague and Exploration Manager in Norway, Guy Oakes, is competing with other companies to find the best people.- The competition to find the most competent employees is tough. There are enough jobs, but there are not enough people with long and relevant experience, says Oakes.Wintershall is investing up to 2 billion euros in Norway until 2015. Bachmann denies that they will follow in the footsteps of oil companies such as Statoil, which cut investments in favor of higher dividends to its shareholders.- Any company must provide for attractive dividends to its investors. How a company chose to do just that is an individual decision. We have a solid investment program, and we have no plans to change that, says Bachmann.

Wintershall Norge: Wintershall is a wholly owned subsidiary of the German chemical giant BASF, and is active in countries like Libya, Argentina, Russia and several countries in Western Europe. Wintershall Norge is built on the Norwegian oil company Revus, which was acquired by the German group for NOK 5 billion (€ 600 million) in 2008. Last year, Wintershall signed a contract with Statoil to swap assets. The agreement also contained a cash compensation of NOK 8 billion (€ 960 million) from Wintershall for Statoil. Through this agreement, Wintershall's Norwegian production increased considerably and the company became operator of the Brage field.

Source: Dagens Næringsliv, February 19, 2014, by ÅSHILD LANGVED

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