Oslo, Dec 31, 2015 (AFP) – More than 300 oil workers were evacuated Thursday after a huge barge broke its moorings in stormy weather and began drifting towards two major North Sea oilfields, Norway’s NTB news agency reported.
The barge was drifting towards the Valhall and Ekofisk oilfields run by British energy giant BP and US multinational ConocoPhillips, NTB said.
Severe weather in the area saw the barge come adrift in British waters and it had moved to within 14 nautical miles of Valhall, according to Norway’s search and rescue authority, the agency reported.
Valhall, whose production was being placed on temporary hold, is 330 kilometres (about 200 miles) southwest of the Norwegian port city of Stavanger.
“The barge has changed course and is headed straight for Valhall,” BP Norway spokesman Jan Erik Geirmo told AFP.
“We hope we shall be able to moor it,” he added after a tug was sent out in pursuit to immobilise it — a precarious operation given the stormy conditions.
BP evacuated about 150 staff by helicopter to neighbouring oil rigs and a further 71 were being transferred from the Ekofisk field operated by ConocoPhillips, which itself evacuated 145 staff, according to Norwegian broadcaster NRK.
BP has a 36 percent stake in Valhall, where production came on stream in 1982, with the remainder held by the Norwegian subsidy of US firm Hess Corporation.
Average production this year stood at 39,000 barrels a day. The field has estimated reserves of 248.1 million barrels of oil and 6.95 billion cubic metres (245 billion cubic feet) of gas.