Monday, 12 July 2010

Appointment of ombudsman to Corrib gas advised

A FORMER board member of Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has advised that the appointment of a new ombudsman trusted by “all stakeholders” may be the only route to resolution of the Corrib gas dispute in north Mayo.

However, the Government should never have permitted construction of the gas infrastructure in the current location, Stein Bredal, a former trade union representative on Statoil’s board, said in Galway at the weekend. Statoil is a partner with Shell and Vermilion Energy in the Corrib gas project.

Mr Bredal also said that Minister of State for Natural Resources Conor Lenihan was “naive” to state that a BP Gulf of Mexico-type incident could not happen in Irish waters.

Mr Bredal spent 25 years working on offshore rigs. He took a keen interest in health and safety following the capsize of the Alexander L Kielland semi-submersible drilling rig on the Norwegian Ekofisk oilfield in March 1980, killing 123 people. He had been due to fly out to start a shift on the rig when the capsize occurred.

“Accidents do happen, even in Norway with our experience and tight regulation,” he said.

Mr Bredal was elected to Statoil’s board as representative of the Federation of Offshore Workers’ Trade Unions in 2000 and served until 2006.

He also unsuccessfully opposed the semi-privatisation of Statoil, as he believed semi-privatisation would dilute the emphasis on social responsibility. “Statoil’s approach in Norway was to ask the community first what it wanted from a project, and to listen,” Mr Bredal said. “It was only when it joined with BP to work in other countries that it moved away from this model.”

“The Norwegian authorities were naive about this partnership” he said. “BP had the contacts but no money, and Statoil had the money but no contacts.” Mr Bredal said that one could not be “totally against” oil and gas exploitation if it brought wealth to countries, but the history of resource exploitation was not always happy.

“The reality is that good economics is often seen as more important than good relations with communities,” he said.

When oil was first found in the North Sea, Norway was “very lucky to have had some strong politicians who planned for the future”, and ensured that the Norwegian state built up expertise in the oil and gas industry, took a 78 per cent tax stake, and ran a state company, he said.

Oil and gas companies tended to act totally on behalf of shareholders, he said, and were in a position to hire the best legal expertise, and were also able to hire journalists to work for them. A common public relations strategy was to present critics of projects or project methodology as “crazies or fundamentalists”, he said.

Mr Bredal said the Norwegian public was generally “not aware” of Statoil’s role in the controversial Corrib gas project in north Mayo, although there had been media coverage of several visits by delegations from Mayo, including one led by Labour Party president Michael D Higgins in 2008.

Mr Bredal was in Galway to attend Risteard Ó Dómhnaill’s documentary, The Pipe , about the Corrib gas controversy, which was screened during the Galway Film Fleadh

Irish Times

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