Major energy supplier Norway ups security amid sabotage talk

Major energy supplier Norway ups security amid sabotage talk

Norway has become Europe's main gas supplier after Moscow cut deliveries
Norway has become Europe's main gas supplier after Moscow cut deliveries. Photo: John Randeris HANSEN / Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/File
Source: AFP

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After worrying drone reports and the "sabotage" of Nord Stream's Baltic Sea pipelines, Europe's biggest gas supplier Norway is beefing up security at its energy installations, which experts have singled out as vulnerable targets.

As spectacular as they may be, the gas leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines linking Russia to Germany have no effect on Europe's energy supply since they were not operational due to the war in Ukraine.

But a sabotage -- the favoured theory among European leaders -- of this type on Norwegian facilities would have a catastrophic impact on the continent, which is already struggling to meet its energy needs as winter approaches.

Norway has become Europe's main gas supplier after Moscow cut deliveries in suspected retaliation against Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine.

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The Scandinavian country has a vast network of pipelines linking it to the continent.

It is currently pumping at full capacity: according to official forecasts, its gas exports could set a record of 122 billion cubic metres this year.

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That can be compared to the 150 billion cubic metres of gas per year that Russia supplied to the European Union before the war in Ukraine.

Faced with these stakes, Norwegian police announced Wednesday they were strengthening security measures already in place in the energy sector in a bid to reduce the risk of an attack.

"The situation is being taken very seriously and several measures have already been put in place to guarantee the best security possible", police official Tone Vangen said in a statement.

She did not provide details, citing security reasons.

On Tuesday, Petroleum and Energy Minister Terje Aasland made a similar announcement citing "reports of increased drone activity" near offshore oil platforms.

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Norwegian energy giant Equinor has reported flights of "unidentified drones near certain installations", a phenomenon not encountered before now.

"We are taking this very seriously and we have reported it to police," Equinor spokesman Eskil Eriksen told AFP, providing no further details.

Gas pipelines a weak link

Echoing authorities, oil companies said they were taking extra precautions at their platforms, bases and land and sea installations.

Stretching over thousands of kilometres, sometimes at great depths, the oil and gas pipelines are a weak link in the energy supply chain that is so vital to Europe.

"They are vulnerable, very exposed," said Tor Ivar Strommen, a researcher at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy.

He called for the introduction of additional security measures, including regular pipe inspections to ensure that explosives have not been placed there as well as closer monitoring of shipping near pipelines.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told Norwegian news agency NTB there was "no specific threat against Norway".

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But for professor and director of the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, Sven Holtsmark, it was "likely" that Moscow, often accused of using energy as a weapon, would try to sabotage Norwegian infrastructure.

"Before, the idea of Russia attacking Norwegian facilities would have seemed completely absurd, but we can no longer afford to exclude this possibility" in order to undermine European support for Ukraine, he told AFP.

"(Russian President) Vladimir Putin's toolbox is running out and the war in Ukraine doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.

"So to me it makes sense for Putin to decide to sabotage Norwegian facilities, especially as it would be difficult to prove that Russia was behind it," the expert added.

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Source: AFP

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