State oil company Equinor’s large natural gas plant at Melkøya outside Hammerfest has reported illegal emissions and pollution every year for the past 10 years. There haven’t been any punitive consequences, however, apart from official reminders that compliance is expected.
Newspaper Finnmark Dagblad reported on the illegal emissions last weekend, and the national media has been following up since. Norway’s environmental authority (Miljø-direktoratet) confirms the illegal emissions, which exceed the emissions level allowed based on production capacity.
“The demands are supposed to be met,” Bjørn Christensen, chief engineer at Miljødirektoratet told newspaper Klassekampen on Thursday, “but this is a large and complex facility that often has a low threshold for reporting.” He said it would almost be exceptional if such a gas plant didn’t have any illegal emissions in the course of a year.
The Melkøya plant, called Hammerfest LNG, was built and opened by Equinor (the former Statoil) in 2007, to receive and process liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the Snøhvit oil and gas field in the Barents Sea. The gas is sent from Snøhvit (Snow White) via a 160-kilometer-long pipe to Melkøya, where it’s cooled down to liquid form, stored in tanks and transported via specially built ships known as LNG carriers.
Equinor still operates the plant and is obligated to report excess emissions and other environmental violations to state authorities every year. Klassekampen, which reviewed the reports, confirmed illegal emissions every year since 2010. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) has also documented 178 “unwanted incidents” including gas, oil and chemical leaks, along with several fires.
Christensen wouldn’t comment on whether the actual violations are abnormally high. The authorities have responded to Equinor, however, by stating that the company is expected to carry out corrective measures to secure that the emissions demands are met in the future.
‘We follow up…’
Christensen confirmed there are no other direct consequences, but stressed that it was “important that the company follow up the reports and take preventive measures. We follow up, to check that steps actually have been taken.”
In some cases, the violations led to changes being made in what’s allowed and not allowed. Erik Haaland, an Equinor spokesman, said all illegal emissions are reported and that the company is “actively working” to reduce them.
“The emissions described as ‘illegal’ are those that are unwanted and that we’re trying to reduce,” Haaland told Klassekampen. “Over a long period of time, it’s not abnormal to have some incidents, but we work systematically to learn from them, so we can avoid repeating them. We of course take this seriously.”