Police start investigating Statoil

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Norway’s state police are launching an investigation into safety issues at state oil company Statoil, after state regulators confirmed Friday that the company risked a catastrophe on its Gullfaks C platform.

Statoil faces a police investigation over a near-blowout on its "Gullfaks C" platform. PHOTO: Øyvind Hagen/Statoil

“The police have decided to start an investigation based on information we received today from Petroleumstilsynet (the Petroleum Safety Authority of Norway, PSA),” Bjørn Kåre Dahl of the police’s North Sea environmental section told website DN.no on Monday.

On Friday, the PSA announced that “only chance” had hindered a major accident in the form of a blowout and explosion on board Gullfaks C in May. The PSA claimed Statoil hadn’t applied earlier experience from a blowout on its Snorre A platform in 2004, that Statoil’s planning for drilling and operations on Gullfaks C were “seriously deficient,” and that the company exhibited poor risk management and control.

Some politicians claimed the regulator’s report was among the strongest they’d ever seen, while environmental organizations said it confirmed their own concerns. Frederic Hauge of Bellona, for example, claimed Statoil had tried to downplay the deficiencies on Gullfaks C, that it could have been as serious an accident as the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, and that Bellona had intended to file police charges against Statoil itself.

Now the police are moving forward themselves with a probe into whether Statoil is guilty of any criminal negligence. If so, Dahl said it then must be determined whether Statoil would face punitive action as a company or whether individual executives would be held responsible.

“Tradition has mostly been that a fine is issued, but I can’t make any predictions,” Dahl told dn.no. “It’s much too early to think along those lines.”

Top Statoil executives had made themselves unavailable last last week when the PSA issued its damning report. Chief executive Helge Lund emerged on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Sunday evening, however, claiming that Statoil invests much time and energy in safety issues.

Lund believes Statoil is “much better now” than it was 10 years ago, but conceded that the Gullfaks incident last spring shows “we haven’t been good enough.”

NRK has reported earlier that employees are losing confidence in Lund, and that many fear traveling out to work on North Sea installations because of an alleged lack of maintenance and controls.

A Statoil spokesman told dn.no that the company will provide personnel and documentation needed for the police “to do a good job.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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