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Happy Earth Day

Last year Eldar Saetre took over as CEO of Statoil , the Norwegian oil giant. As Statoil’s former CFO, and a 35-year veteran of the company, Saetre, 59, has slipped comfortably into the role vacated by Helge Lund, who left to become CEO of BG Group , which is being acquired by Royal Dutch Shell .

Though based in Oslo, Saetre is in the U.S. this week for the first time since becoming CEO. In addition to giving a speech today at the IHS -Ceraweekconference in Houston, he sat down with Forbes on Monday for a half-hour conversation about his thoughts and objectives at this historic time for the industry. In short, he says, he is focusing Statoil on cutting costs, maintaining flexibility and taxing carbon.

Cutting costs seems a no-brainer. According to Statoil subsea development costs are up 250% in a decade, and they think increased standardization in the subsea could in time help preserve profitability at lower commodity prices. They’d like to match the improvements gleaned in shale plays like the Eagle Ford. When Statoil entered the Eagle Ford in 2010 it took them 52 days to drill a well. Now that’s down to 15 days.

But that latter goal — cutting carbon and becoming the world’s most carbon-efficient oil company — is a surprising aspiration to hear from any oil company CEO. And it’s a real point of differentiation between Statoil and some of its American oil giant peers. You simply won’t hear an American oil CEO say, as Saetre told me, that oil companies need to support United Nations’ efforts to impose a global cost on carbon.

Just last week Statoil and the Norwegian government (which owns a controlling stake in the company) joined with a handful of other oil giants to sign a landmark World Bank pact to stop flaring natural gas by 2030. France’s Total , Italy’s Eni and even Shell also signed the pact. No U.S. companies joined them.

Naturally, an oil company that promotes carbon controls is a jumble of contradictions. If carbon is so terrible then why doesn’t the Norwegian government simply order Statoil to leave all its oil and gas in the ground? Saetre answers that question and more in the Q&A below.