Statoil wants to stay in Algeria

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Norwegian state-owned oil company Statoil intends to continue operations in Algeria after a gas processing plant was attacked there earlier this month by radical Islamists, killing 37 foreign workers. Calls have gone out, meanwhile, for an independent review of whether security at the plant was good enough.

The In Amenas gas processing plant, operated by Statoil along with BP of the UK  and Sonatrach of Algeria, is large and not yet believed to be under the full control of the Algerian military following its counterattack on terrorists holding plant employees as hostages. This photo was taken in 2005, when production was starting up. PHOTO: Statoil/Kjetil Alsvik

The In Amenas gas processing plant has been operated by Statoil along with BP of the UK and Sonatrach of Algeria. They all reportedly want to resume operations despite this month’s terrorist attack and hostage crisis. PHOTO: Statoil/Kjetil Alsvik

As part of the review of what happened at the plant and whether security was sufficient, a main labour union at Statoil asked the government to appoint an independent commission to provide some answers in addition to the companies’ and Algerian authorities’ own reviews.

“Our intention is to continue, and so will Statoil’s partners Sonatrach, BP and Algerian authorities,” Statoil’s country manager Rolf Magne Larsen told newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad.

“We need to find out what exactly happened, what went wrong and learn from this so that the intention becomes a reality,” Larsen said.

Four Norwegian Statoil workers were confirmed killed in the attack, with one employee still missing. Twelve others were rescued.

Preserve the organization
Larsen, a Statoil employee for 35 years, said that although the company has experienced difficult accidents before, nothing could compare to this attack where people deliberately harmed them.

“A terrorist attack such as this one creates a different fear and anxiety,” Larsen added. “This makes it even more important to preserve the organization and to get through what happened.”

“I hope most people want to join in and continue Statoil’s commitments in Algeria,” Larsen told the paper.

Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund has earlier rejected calls for Statoil to scale back operations in dangerous, remote locations. Norway’s foreign minister, Espen Barth Eide, has claimed that any reductions would be equivalent to letting the terrorists succeed in scaring off international businesses.

Last week, a former Statoil board member claimed Statoil underestimated the risk of operating in Algeria, raising questions over the company’s risk disclosure.

The bodies of the four Norwegian Statoil employees confirmed dead were expected to arrive back in Norway on Wednesday. Victor Sneberg, age 56, remained the last captured Statoil employee still missing.

Independent probe requested
Statoil labour union Industri Energi, meanwhile, requested in a letter to Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg that an independent commission be appointed to review what happened and what went wrong in In Amenas.

In the letter, the head of the union, Leif Sande, wrote: “We don’t know what went wrong, and we need a thorough and independent review of how this could happen and whether emergency plans were good enough to protect the employees.”

“We assume that authorities and companies involved will review themselves. But an independent commission will provide more trustworthy information about what happened,” Sande continued, according to newspaper Aftenposten.

The union believes the review should not only provide some answers about what happened, but also offer some recommendations to all situations where employees are sent abroad for international operations.

Barth Eide would neither confirm nor deny whether such a commission would be put in place, but told Aftenposten that this was part of the Algerian authorities’ responsibility. “It is important to remember that Algerian authorities are responsible for security in Algeria, while terror acts in Norway are Norwegian authorities’ responsibility,” Eide said, referring to Sande’s comparison to the commission appointed in Norway after the July 22 terrorist attacks in and near Oslo in 2011. Eide added that he would accept the union’s request for a meeting on the issue.

Views and News from Norway/Aasa Christine Stoltz

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