‘Scandal’ looms at Statoil refinery

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Top officials of Norwegian oil company Statoil were summoned on Friday to the offices of state oil industry regulators for the second time this week. They were ordered to explain why they withheld information about systems errors that have inadvertently disrupted and even halted production at Statoil’s oil refinery at Mongstad.

Emissions from plants like this one at Mongstad need to be reduced if Norway is to meet its climate goals. PHOTO: Statoil/Helge Hansen

Statoil’s large refinery at Mongstad on Norway’s west coast has been the site of accidents and production problems that have caught the attention of state authorities at Petroleumstilsynet. PHOTO: Statoil/Helge Hansen

The errors, which stretch back to 2014, were first reported by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday morning. They’re being viewed as serious, because they involved an Indian company to which Statoil had outsourced information technology (IT) services.

Internal reports at Statoil, which NRK was made privvy to, showed that a keyboard error made by an IT worker in India had halted production at Mongstad. The reports also showed that there were a series of “unfortunate incidents” involving the IT workers in India, who accessed Statoil’s systems “through a backdoor and firewalls,” and ultimately disrupted or halted oil production at Mongstad.

“These incidents have not been reported in to us,” Eileen Brundtland of Petroleumstilsynet told NRK at midday Friday. “We have seen the stories in the media (Friday morning) and have asked Statoil to appear at a meeting today to explain whether they are in line with what actually happened.”

NRK reported that Statoil itself, in its reports, had referred to the incidents at Mongstad as a security breach. “If these incidents involved security, we should have been alerted,” Brundtland told NRK.

‘Big scandal’
Fredric Hauge, leader of the environmental organization Bellona, was already harshly criticizing Statoil Friday afternoon. “Clearly, when alarms at the refinery at Mongstad can be screwed off by an IT worker in India, then anything can happen,” Hauge told NRK. “This is a facility at great risk for gas leaks and explosions, so this is a big scandal.”

Several of Statoil’s internal reports describe how Statoil’s outsourcing of IT services has put security and safety at risk. Tekna, a professional organization representing IT workers in Norway, was also criticizing a lack of openness around internal reports that describe how Statoil’s outsourcing to India allegedly has undermined security.

“What’s problematic here is the secrecy,” Tekna President Lise Randeberg told NRK. “The reports have been withheld from public review.” According to NRK, the reports also describe a lack of training and experience throughout the company.

Statoil was already under pressure this week from labour unions and not least the state authorities at Petroleumstilsynet following three serious accidents at offshore installations earlier this month plus a gas leak at mainland facilities including Mongstad, where around 600 workers were evacuated on Monday. The authorities want to know whether there is any connection between the rash of accidents, which they claim could have caused injury or loss of life, and Statoil’s ongoing cost-cutting programs following two years with lower prices for oil and gas.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund