Concerns rise over Gullfaks oil field

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Norwegian oil industry regulators and environmental organizations were sounding new alarms over the weekend, after learning that state oil company Statoil had shut down as many as 50 wells at its Gullfaks field in the North Sea last fall because of leaks and other safety problems. Employees have said they’re afraid to go to work on the field.

Statoil's Gullfaks field in the often stormy North Sea is causing more safety concerns. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

Statoil’s Gullfaks field, which has been in production for 25 years, has been a major concern for months. Regulators last year uncovered serious safety flaws, there were concerns of a new blowout last spring and the police launched an investigation into safety issues in November after regulators confirmed a “near catastrophe” on the Gullfaks C platform.

Now the regulators at Petroleumstilsynet (the Petroleum Safety Authority of Norway, PSA) are double-checking what Statoil has told them about safety issues on the Gullfaks field. It only emerged last week that more wells were shut down last fall, and the regulators claim they weren’t informed about the closing of at least a third of them, reports newspaper Aftenposten.

Officials at PSA had a meeting with Statoil officials on December 16, according to Aftenposten, but were not given the impression that the problems were as major as Statoil disclosed on Friday. More meetings were set for this week.

A Statoil spokesman said that if the regulators feel they have received “too little or poor information, we will discuss this further with them,” adding that Statoil “will never set aside safety concerns for the workers or the environment.”

Frederic Hauge of environmental organization Bellona called Statoil’s communications strategy over Gullfaks “the worst I have ever seen in Norway.” He’s demanding that the government set up an independent commission to examine the safety situation on Gullfaks. “We want some answers to questions we’ve been raising for three-quarters of a year,” Hauge told Aftenposten.

A regulatory closure of Gullfaks would cause huge losses for Statoil, which claims it has been addressing issues of leaks and pressure problems at its Gullfaks installation. A representative for the workers on the Gullfaks field, however, has said many are afraid to report for work on the platforms because of leaks on the field and earlier fears of a blowout. They are considering initiating a forced closure themselves.

Statoil wrote on its website Friday that it believes it is operating securely on Gullfaks and that work is underway to bring closed wells back into production. The 50 wells were closed last fall precisely out of consideration for safety on the installation, a spokesman said.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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