Remotely operated risks causes tension in Norway

The shift by some oil companies in Norway towards remotely operating oil rigs has raised tensions with oil rig workers, many of whom are concerned for their jobs.

Lower oil prices and the Covid-19 have accelerated the move to manage Norwegian oil rigs remotely. Audun Ingvartsen, a union leader of Lederne, said that their members were still concerned whether onshore controls were good enough and safe enough.

Ingvartsen and Hilde-Marit Rysst, head of the union Safe, have said that their concerns were based on situational awareness among those working offshore and on land.

Jarle Eide, a representative of the Industri Energi union at Equinor, claimed that workers had become more confident in operating remotely.

Aker BP’s Ivar Aasen field was the first manned offshore platform to be managed remotely, with about 50 people working on the rig while operated on land by another 14. Aker BP and Equinor both have moved controls onshore gradually.

Meanwhile, the Safe union has broken off oil service wage talks with Norwegian oil service companies.

The discussions will now become subject to mandatory mediation later this year, union and industry officials said. The 850 members of Safe are not permitted to strike at this point, but could do so if the next round of talks also fails to bring agreement.

Industri Energi, a larger union in the sector, has agreed to a wages and conditions deal, covering some 6,500 workers. No date has so far been set for the resumption of talks between Safe and the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association (NOG), which negotiates on behalf of the industry. “It’s regrettable that Safe did not accept the same offer as Industri Energi,” NOG said in a statement.

Safe responded, saying that the rights of some of its members had been eroded and it feared this could also become the case for others, with the potential consequence that wages in certain cases could be cut by as much as 47%. “The union demands a continuation of the current agreement,” Safe leader Hilde-Marit Rysst said.

The industry’s core production workers, who are directly employed by oil firms and thus not part of the latest talks, settled their wage demands earlier in October.

Neither Safe nor Industri Energi went on strike during those negotiations. A third union, Lederne, did go on strike, which reduced output.