The heads of NATO and the European Commission visited Norway’s largest gasfield on Friday in a show of strength aimed at highlighting their determination to protect critical energy infrastructure against potential sabotage.
NATO warships and aircraft were on patrol as Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the commission, arrived at the trawl platform, which supplies about 10 percent of Europe’s gas needs.
“These installations are very important because they are also very sensitive,” Stoltenberg said as ships from the UK, Germany, Spain and Portugal followed.
Western officials are increasingly concerned about protecting critical infrastructure after unexplained explosions at three of the four Nord Steam gas pipelines linking Russia and Germany and drone sightings near North Sea platforms last September.
The EU and Nato launched a new task force on Thursday to secure critical infrastructure as the topic rises to the top of the agenda for energy and security policymakers.
Stoltenberg admitted that with 8,000 km of gas pipelines and cables in Norwegian waters alone “we cannot protect every meter of this infrastructure all the time”.
However, increased patrols and military exercises near critical infrastructure, as well as increased information sharing among NATO allies, would have a deterrent effect, he argued.
Ministers in Norway, which replaced Russia as Europe’s biggest supplier of gas after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, say they are more worried about potential cyber attacks than a spectacular act of sabotage.
“This is an essential part of Norway. It represents the energy partnership and security partnership between Europe and Norway,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Storr said on the troll platform.
Von der Leyen praised Norway’s support in increasing gas production by around 10 percent to help Europe through the winter. But she said gas was part of the energy “transition” and that renewable energy would be the future.
Norway is keen to position itself as the democratic supplier of choice for oil and gas and seek commitments through long-term contracts to continue production on its continental shelf.
Anders Opedal, chief executive of Equinor, the Norwegian state-controlled petroleum group that operates the trawl, said the gasfield would produce after 2050, the EU’s target date for reaching net zero carbon emissions.
But he said Equinor hopes to install offshore wind farms and inject carbon back into the seabed near Troll as Norway invests in green technology.