Collision spurred oil platform evacuation

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More than 200 people on board Equinor’s Statfjord A oil platform in the North Sea were evacuated during the night after a supply vessel collided with the platform. The collision occurred just as Equinor is under regulatory pressure to correct repeated environmental violations at another nearby oil field.

Equinor released this photo taken early Friday from the vessel called in to assess damage to the platform. The circle shows where the Statfjord A was struck by a supply vessel during a cargo operation. PHOTO: Equinor/Stril Herkules

Equinor wrote in a press release Friday morning that the supply ship PSV Sjøborg hit the platform in connection with a cargo loading operation.

State broadcaster NRK reported that the vessel “came out of position” and sailed into an area that also left the lifeboat station damaged.

Two search and rescue helicopters were thus sent to the scene to airlift personnel off the platform. The supply vessel itself, with 12 people on board, was able to sail back to the mainland. Equinor stressed that no oil production was underway at the time of the accident, since it had been halted as part of a regulatory control.

The state-owned oil company nonetheless mobilized its preparedness organization, with the vessel Stril Herkules also sent to the scene to provide assistance and assess damage. There were 276 people on board the Statfjord A platform at the time of the collision.

This photo shows some of the structural damage to the Statfjord A platform. PHOTO: Equinor/Stril Herkules

With the lifeboat station damaged, personnel on board the platform were thus airlifted by helicopter to the nearby Statfjord B and C platforms, and to Gullfaks A. No injuries were reported.

Equinor’s Gullfaks oil field, meanwhile, is the target of a highly critical report by the state environmental directorate (Miljødirektoratet). Newspaper Dagens Nærringsliv (DN) reported earlier this week that the state regulators have called Equinor officials in on the carpet after repeated violations of environmental regulations.

Gullfaks is one of Equinor’s oldest oil fields and has had many visits from regulators in recent years. Now the regulators are complaining that violations discovered during their monitoring have not been corrected when they return, that mistakes have been repeated and that Equinor’s three platforms on the Gullfaks field haven’t shared information amongst themselves to prevent new mistakes.

“You could say they haven’t learned from their mistakes,” Ingvild Marthinsen, leader of petroleum operations for the directorate, told DN. “We are surprised over the lack of follow-up from Equinor. Operators otherwise are quite good at addressing violations we have pointed out.”

Tough questions loom
She and her colleagues have thus called in top management for Equinor’s Gullfaks A, B and C platforms. They’ll be asked why several problems on the field not only haven’t been addressed, but have instead been repeated. The regulators also want to know whether Equinor’s preparedness for accidents is good enough, not least after Equinor itself acknowledged that several drilling operations had been carried out without updated environmental preparedness plans.

Equinor officials are reportedly not satisfied that the deficiences have been corrected. “The letter is tied to five audits of Gullfaks,” Equinor spokesman Morten Eek told DN. “The number of deficiencies was around 30 during the entire period. We maintain that most of the deficiencies have been addressed. Of the 30 found, less than five have been repeated. We aren’t satisfied with that.”

He also admitted that there are “examples … where we haven’t done a good enough job,” and that Equinor would listen to the regulators’ criticism.

Mature but messy money machine
Gullfaks is considered one of Equinor’s major “money machines” on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, producing oil and gas last year alone that’s valued at NOK 28 billion.

It also, however, accounts for the highest CO2, CH4 and SOx emissions, the second-highest NOx emissions and the largest release of chemicals, among other pollution. Equinor claims Gullfaks‘ emissions are acceptable, and “considerably lower” than authorized limits.

Eek claimed that “a lot” was being done to reduce Gullfaks‘ environmental impact, “but it’s clear that a field developed in the 1980s can’t measure up to today’s field development. We are working systematically to reduce emissions both into the air and the water.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund