Operators off Norway are being reprimanded by the country’s safety watchdog over a rising tally of incidents in the oil and gas sector this year amid fears that operational issues due to the Covid-19 pandemic are to blame.

The Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) recorded more than 50 incidents to the end of September — twice as many as in the same period of last year and four times the 2018 figure.

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In addition, the agency has decided to initiate as many as 11 investigations this year, which is a new record, including probes into a turbine fire at the Hammerfest LNG plant in northern Norway, Equinor’s Johan Castberg field development project and the disconnection of risers on the rig West Mira.

“Preliminary findings from some of these inquiries show that company responses to the coronavirus epidemic may have had consequences for safety,” the PSA stated.

Director general, Anne Myhrvold, said the agency now intends to hold meetings with operators working off Norway over the coming weeks to address the “disquieting” rise in the number of incidents and “send an unambiguous signal” to these companies.

“The sum of the strong and weak signals we’re now seeing makes us uneasy,” she admitted.

“My message to top management now is that they must now give priority to safety work, so that we can avoid accidents and serious incidents in petroleum operations,” she added

“The operator companies are responsible for safety on their facilities and at their plants. They’re the ones who own the risk. We do not accept a trend with an ever-growing number of incidents.”

'Unacceptable'

Among operators working off Norway are state-controlled Equinor as well as independents Aker BP, Lundin Energy, Neptune Energy and Vaar Energi.

The PSA chief warned that it was “unacceptable” if it is confirmed that initial indications from ongoing investigations show the pandemic has had a detrimental effect on safety.

Many offshore installations were downmanned to only a skeleton staff earlier this year to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with activities curbed to only essential tasks to maintain production.

In addition, platform maintenance has been reduced amid company cutbacks in response to low oil prices due to global energy demand destruction from the pandemic.

“We see that the pandemic has led to maintenance postponements and changes to turnaround schedules,” Myhrvold said.

“The companies assure us that they are continuing to carry out necessary maintenance of safety-critical equipment, but we see that delays to other necessary servicing are increasing.”

She added that operators “must avoid a lack of maintenance over time developing into a safety risk”.