A serious gas leak at Statoil’s Kårstø plant on Norway’s west coast forced officials to consider more evacuations Friday morning. Leakage of methane gas that began during the night was thought to be under control, but new alarms rang at around 9:30am.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that more leakage was discovered after workers at the plant were attempting to start up operations again. The Kårstø facility, located at Tysvær between Haugesund and Stavanger, had been shut down late Thursday night because of a major leak that forced the evacuation of plant workers on the night shift.
“Any gas leak presents risks, and for us, safety has the highest priority,” Ove Tungesvik, communications leader for Statoil’s Kårstø plant, told NRK. The leak posed a threat of explosions at Kaåstø, which is considered one of Norway’s most important industrial facilities. The gas processing plant has been in business for 30 years, receiving gas from North Sea fields on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and delivering abroad.
People living near the plant were asked to leave their homes Thursday night, as sirens from the facility began to wail and police knocked on doors. One local resident, Elin Helen Rikstad, said the alarms rang three times, and Statoil also sent out text messages and posted warnings on social media.
“The children were in bed, and we were about to go to bed, too,” Rikstad told NRK. “But then the police knocked on the door. It was a woman who was very calm, and told us we had to evacuate. So we woke and dressed the children and just did what we were were told to do.”
Then came another message that evacuation wasn’t necessary after all. “Then we just put the children back in bed,” she said. “We felt very well taken care of.” In addition to the warnings to neighbours, air traffic controllers for both the Stavanger and Haugesund airports were alerted so they could divert any flights from flying directly over the Karstø plant.
Leaked all night
Thursday night’s leak wasn’t stopped until 8am Friday. Production had been shut down after the methane gas was discovered to be leaking from an intake pipe from Statpipe within the plant itself. Efforts began to reduce pressure in the pipe to contain the leak.
“The gas isn’t poisonous, but there’s a danger of fire,” warned local police. It was difficult to estimate how much gas leaked out, but police described it as a “large” amount. There were no injuries.
New alarms rang Friday morning as workers were restarting production. “It’s not unusual to get more leakage when we start up again,” Tungesvik said, but added that Statoil was taking it seriously. The new leak was brought under control at 11:30am and no further evacuations were deemed necessary.