‘Goliat’ problems spark inquiry

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Safety concerns and accusations of a “clown culture” on board the huge Goliat oil platform in the Barents Sea have sparked an inquiry from Norway’s Labour Minister. She wants some answers from the state authorities who’ve also been criticized over how they’ve handled complaints from workers and their unions.

The Goliat platform, photographed on an unusually calm day in the Barents Sea. Environmental and climate activists don't want to see any more such projects in sensitive Arctic areas. PHOTO: Eni Norge/News On Request AS

The huge Goliat platform continues to have problems, and now is sparking serious safety concerns as well. PHOTO: Eni Norge/News On Request AS

Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie is concerned over working conditions on Norway’s first oil field to be developed in the Barents. It’s been controversial from the start, given the environmental sensitivity of the Arctic and a long series of problems that plagued its development.

Trouble on the Goliat platform itself reached new heights late last week after months of various “safety incidents” climaxed in a power cut and evacuation of more than 50 workers. This week came reports that some of the workers were afraid to fly back out to the platform, along with accusations that the Italian oil company operating it, Eni, was not taking their concerns seriously.

“I received a phone call from a group of oil workers who said they were considering refusing to travel back out to the platform,” Owe Waltherzøe of their labour union Safe told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Thursday. “They claim the situation is uncertain, they didn’t feel safe and were afraid to return.”

The power cut last Friday was the latest in the series of problems for the huge Goliat project. DN reported that operator Eni Norge has had to report 13 “incidents and accidents” since the platform was finally towed into position on the oil field 85 kilometers northwest of Hammerfest and started producing oil earlier this year. Delivery of the platform had already been delayed for more than two years and it suffered huge budget overruns and accidents, with three workers killed during its construction in South Korea.

DN reported this week that once Goliat arrived in Norway, the platform has had gas leaks, smoke emitted from a generator, a power failure in May, hydraulic leaks, a gas alarm, a worker injured in a winching accident and finally the evacuation on Friday. Alarms rang for one of the gas leaks just after Oil Minister Tord Lien and Eni’s top management had left the platform by helicopter following opening ceremonies in April. Even some of the journalists remaining on board the platform had to go into the lifeboats until the situation normalized.

Workers lack confidence
“The workers can’t rely on the leadership at Eni, which has a clown culture we’ve never seen before on the Norwegian Continental Shelf,” Waltherzøe told DN. “It says something about the lack of confidence people have in Eni’s management when they don’t want to return to the platform until it’s declared safe by Petroleumstilsynet (the state petroleum authorities).”

The authorities at Petroleumstilsynet have been criticized as well, however, for allegedly losing control over operations on Goliat. Fredric Hauge of the environmental organization Bellona even called this week for the resignation of Petroleumstilsynet’s director, Anne Myhrvold. He claimed that all the employee representatives for labour unions on the platform sent a complaint two-and-a-half months ago, demanding an investigation into alleged violations of Norwegian labour law and practice. When Friday’s evacuation came, they were still waiting for an answer.

Now the authorities face criticism for allowing Eni to start up production again on Goliat. On Thursday DN reported that Labour Minister Hauglie wants some answers from Myhvold, calling the reports of errors and deficiencies on board Goliat “disturbing.” Hauglie said she wanted to know whether Petroleumstilsynet “has the tools needed to carry out inpections in a proper manner. Crews that travel out to the platforms and their families shall be assured that safety comes first.”

Hauglie also wants to discuss safety in the oil industry in general and on Goliat in particular, and whether there’s a need for new regulations. Myhrvold confirmed she’ll be having a meeting with the minister, telling news bureau NTB that “it’s good that we have a direct dialogue about these issues.”

Eni denies ‘Goliat’ is unsafe
Both Eni and Myhrvold have flatly denied Goliat is unsafe, but won’t comment on the “clown culture” characterization. “We take safety very seriously,” Eni spokesman Andreas Wulff of Eni Norge told DN. “We shut down production Saturday and will conduct a thorough investigation of (the power cut).” He said he otherwise couldn’t comment until Eni had received the authorities’ own report on the incident.

Myhrvold, who was busy at the ONS conference in Stavanger this week, stressed repeatedly that the oil companies themselves have primary responsibility for safety on their installations. She stressed that her agency can’t approve or disapprove installations themselves. She defended Eni’s decision to start up oil production again, based on the information it had. “It’s the operators who must make sure they’re operating safely,” Myhrvold. “We will follow it up.”

Myhrvold was eating lunch with Statoil chief Eldar Sætre at ONS Wednesday when the criticism intensified. Statoil owns 35 percent of the Goliat field, but Sætre wouldn’t comment on the situation, on the grounds only Eni as operator could respond. Wulff added that the company was still working on its probe of Friday’s power cut and would pass on its conclusions to Petroleumstilsynet next week.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund