This recording was made by the crew barracks along the Bleivassvegen road at Ågotnes, near a fence looking down at the Coast Center Base (CCB). Installations at the base produce an even industrial hum, probably originating from the drilling rig “Deepsea Aberdeen” docked at the harbour. In front and below a tarpaulin is coming loose and rattles in the wind. Behind, water drips as snow and hail at the roofs of the barracks melt in the sun on this cold and windy winter day. The frigate “Helge Ingstad” is docked at the harbour as well. That ship was severely damaged in a collision with an oil tanker in autumn 2018 and will most likely be condemned.
The international research initiative “Global Suburbanisms: Governance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century” came to an end in 2019.1 One crucial thesis coming out of this project is that we now live in an age of global suburbanization:
We are living on a suburban planet. While the majority of humans around the world now call some form of urban habitat their home, most of us live, work and play in environments that would not usually be recognized as the traditional city. Instead, we find ourselves at the edge of town. This has consequences both for the way we live and govern ourselves, how we plan and build housing and infrastructure and how we write the history, geography and theory of urban life.2
It is no longer possible to consider suburbs only as peripheral in a centralised world oriented towards the inner cities.
There is no longer such a thing as suburbanization, understood as a peripheral accretion in a center-dominated urban process. (…) If being urban is increasingly the shared condition of our humanity, for many if not most of us, this takes place in what we would recognise as a suburban space. (…) More and more the world comes to the suburbs and so the suburbs are, more and more, the world: the periphery is not peripheral.3
If there is a location in Bergen to prove this point, it must be here, between the barracks and the port.
The establishment of the supply base in 1973 was part of the initial development of the oil industry in Norway. This development depended on the expansion of Norway’s economic zone to 200 nautic miles to claim ownership of the newfound oil resources in the North Sea. Expanding economic zones followed in the wake of international negotiations towards what eventually became The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treatise motivated by developing offshore commercial interests and the need for ecological management:
In the late 1960s, oil exploration was moving further and further from land, deeper and deeper into the bedrock of continental margins. From a modest beginning in 1947 in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore oil production, still less than a million tons in 1954, had grown to close to 400 million tons. Oil drilling equipment was already going as far as 4,000 metres below the ocean surface. The oceans were being exploited as never before. Activities unknown barely two decades earlier were in full swing around the world. (…) It was late 1967 and the tranquillity of the sea was slowly being disrupted by technological breakthroughs, accelerating and multiplying uses, and a super-Power rivalry that stood poised to enter man’s last preserve – the seabed. (…)
On 1 November 1967, Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Arvid Pardo, asked the nations of the world to look around them and open their eyes to a looming conflict that could devastate the oceans, the lifeline of man’s very survival. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he spoke of the super-Power rivalry that was spreading to the oceans, of the pollution that was poisoning the seas, of the conflicting legal claims and their implications for a stable order and of the rich potential that lay on the seabed.
Pardo ended with a call for “an effective international regime over the seabed and the ocean floor beyond a clearly defined national jurisdiction”. “It is the only alternative by which we can hope to avoid the escalating tension that will be inevitable if the present situation is allowed to continue”, he said.
Pardo’s urging came at a time when many recognized the need for updating the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine to take into account the technological changes that had altered man’s relationship to the oceans. It set in motion a process that spanned 15 years and saw the creation of the United Nations Seabed Committee, the signing of a treaty banning nuclear weapons on the seabed, the adoption of the declaration by the General Assembly that all resources of the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are the common heritage of mankind and the convening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. What started as an exercise to regulate the seabed turned into a global diplomatic effort to regulate and write rules for all ocean areas, all uses of the seas and all of its resources. These were some of the factors that led to the convening of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, to write a comprehensive treaty for the oceans.4
The terror attack in New York in 2001 had world-wide repercussions. ISPS (International Ship and Port Facility Security Code) came into effect in 2004, aiming to secure international ports and ships. ISPS is implemented at CCB, making the port inaccessible to unauthorised personnel. The fences in front of me are part of these security measures.
The 2007 financial crisis had limited impact as the oil price remained high. Instead, the industry expanded the following years, related primarily to emerging subsea technology. In 2014, oil prices fell dramatically. Oil production had resumed in Iraq and Libya, and increasing fracking in the US also had a significant impact. Falling prices resulted in layoffs and downscaling, and within a few months operations were reduced by half, and several buildings on the base were vacated. The crew barracks behind me had previously been buzzing with activity; now, they were left empty.
The refugee crisis in 2015 affected Norway as well, as refugees arrived from Russia crossing the border at Storskog in Finnmark. For CCB, this provided welcome opportunities, as they quickly repurposed the crew barracks into an emergency refugee camp hosting up to 250 refugees. Some of the regugees arrivi9ng here became friends of ours.
The offshore industry has become more volatile, but with the transition to freight port for Bergen in the next few years, the future looks better and more stable for CCB.
(Please use headphones when listening.)
2 Keil, Roger, and Lucy Lynch. ‘Suburban Change Is Transforming City Life around the World’. The Conversation, 2019. https://theconversation.com/suburban-change-is-transforming-city-life-around-the-world-125598.
3 Keil, Roger. ‘Welcome to the Suburban Revolution’. In Suburban Constellations. Gouvernance, Land and Infrastructure in the 21st Century, edited by Roger Keil, 8–15. Berlin: jovis Verlag GmBH, 2013.
4 United Nation. ‘The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (A Historical Perspective)’. The Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, Office of Legal Affairs, United Nation, 2012. https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_historical_perspective.htm.