Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote

Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote
Unmanned installations allow oil companies to save costs on helicopter transport and extra payments, but unions say remote control increases safety risks. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 October 2020

Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote

Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote
  • Lower crude prices, pandemic accelerate push for unmanned offshore platforms

OSLO: A shift to operating oil rigs remotely from land, which has been accelerated by lower crude prices, has rekindled concerns among Norwegian unions over the impact on the safety of offshore workers and the loss of well-paid jobs.

These fears were highlighted by Lederne, one of three unions representing offshore workers, which this month shut six fields in a strike that threatened a quarter of Norway’s oil and gas output, rattling global oil markets.

“The strike was not against moving controls onshore. But we needed to get the deal for our members to also be a part of the discussions about moving controls onshore and their safety,” Lederne leader Audun Ingvartsen said.

Lederne, whose strike ended on Oct. 9, is the only Norwegian oil and gas workers union which did not have an agreement for its members at onshore control rooms. Oil companies started experimenting with remote controls about seven years ago, first with smaller, unmanned installations off the coast of Norway.

Europe’s largest oil and gas producer has since become a testing ground for industry attempts to turn this technology to larger, manned platforms.

Lower oil prices and the coronavirus crisis are accelerating this shift, prompting concerns about the safety of staff still working offshore on rigs.

“Our members still wonder whether this (onshore controls) is good enough, whether it is safe enough,” Ingvartsen said.

Both Ingvartsen and Hilde-Marit Rysst, head of another union, Safe, said their member concerns relate to situational awareness of those working offshore and on land.

“When you sit on the bomb, you will react differently than when you are far away from it,” Rysst said.

About 160 km from land, Equinor’s Valemon oil and gas field became the first in Norway to be operated entirely onshore in 2017. It has living quarters and a control room, but most of the time has no crew.

Production is managed in a control room in Bergen, but its operators have to spend two weeks offshore every year to make sure they are familiar with the rig.

Jarle Eide, a representative of the Industri Energi union at Equinor, said workers were more confident than before in the use of remote controls.

“People were initially skeptical, but gradually you get used to it. I don’t think anybody feels uneasy about it today,” Eide said, speaking by phone from the Valemon platform where he is part of a 19-member crew deployed there for a two-week shift.




A technician at Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup field uses a tablet to inspect platform equipment. (Reuters)

“Of course, there is always a risk and things can go wrong, so you have to be focused on safety even during your spare time,” he added.

Aker BP took a step further last year when its Ivar Aasen field became the first manned offshore platform to be managed remotely. There are, on average, about 50 people working on the rig, which is operated on land by about 14 people.

While Ingard Haugeberg, the Industri Energi union’s representative at Aker BP, said there were no indications that workers at Ivar Aasen felt unsafe, there were concerns about fully-automated platforms in the future.

“When the technology takes over 100 percent control, we have to rethink the way forward,” he said. “There will be fewer offshore jobs available in the future, and we, as union, don’t like it.”

Aker BP and Equinor both said they have been seeking to address concerns by moving controls onshore gradually and by ensuring that workers on the platforms can take over control if needed, with emergency response available nearby. “The combination of human competence and technology provide the best solutions also as we see it with regards to maintaining safety and reducing risks,” a spokesman for Equinor, Norway’s largest oil and gas firm, said.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA), which has to approve new ways of controlling offshore operations, said there had been no incidents related to remote controls.

“So far, we have found no reason to raise any objections to remote control technology,” PSA spokeswoman Inger Anda said, adding that ultimate responsibility rested with the companies.

Moving workers from offshore installations allows oil companies to save on helicopter transport and the extra payments workers receive for being offshore, which could account to nearly 50 percent of a total salary, Rysst said.

Other technical innovations, such as pooling data from various sensors on an offshore platform and using machine learning to alert maintenance requirements, also help to reduce costs.

Equinor said digital solutions helped to boost earnings at its flagship Johan Sverdrup oilfield by 2 billion Norwegian crowns ($213 million) since it started production a year ago.

Sverdrup does not have an onshore control room, but Equinor has created a “digital twin” which allows engineers onshore to explore for potential improvements, while offshore workers navigate around its platforms using tablets.

Aker BP, which says on its website it sees “considerable potential for increased revenues after start-up of the onshore control room,” told Reuters it planned to remotely control more offshore platforms in the future, including at the NOAKA development, in the Norwegian North Sea.

And Equinor, which will have an onshore control room for its Martin Linge field expected to start in 2021, has said it would consider using remote control options for small and medium-sized platforms, but that the largest platforms will still be staffed.

“This is the future and we can not stop it, but we need to ensure that offshore workers have at least minimum controls and they feel safe,” Lederne’s Ingvartsen said.


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 23 sec ago

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.


Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
Updated 11 May 2021

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
  • IOC’s refineries at 95 percent of their capacity in late April
  • Several Indian states remain under lockdown

NEW DELHI: India’s top oil refiners are reducing processing runs and crude imports as the surging COVID-19 pandemic has cut fuel consumption, leading to higher product stockpiles at the plants, company officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corp, the country’s biggest refiner, has reduced runs to an average of between 85 percent and 88 percent of processing capacity, a company official said, adding runs could be cut further as some plants are facing problems storing refined oil products.
IOC’s refineries were operating at about 95 percent of their capacity in late April.
“We do not anticipate that our crude processing would be reduced to last year’s level of 65 percent-70 percent as inter-state vehicle movement is still there ... (the) economy is functioning,” he said.
Several states across India are under lockdown as the coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high, although the government of India, the world’s third largest oil importer and consumer, has not implemented a full lockdown.
State-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. has cut its crude imports by 1 million barrels in May and will reduce purchases by 2 million barrels in June, a company official said.
M.K. Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp, expects India’s fuel consumption in May to fall by 5 percent from April as the impact on driving and industrial production is not as severe as last year.
“This time it is not a full lockdown like last time,” he said.
“Sales in April was about 90 percent of March and we expect May could be about 5 percent lower than April.”


Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
Updated 11 May 2021

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
  • Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter

DUBAI: UAE property buyers are seeking bigger villas and seafront locations as the post-pandemic real estate market puts a premium on space, according to the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s biggest developer.

Aldar Group CEO Talal Al-Dhiyebi also revealed a rapidly changing mix of investors acquiring the developer’s units with the number of Indian expatriate and female investors rising sharply.
Aldar on Monday reported an 80 percent jump in first quarter profit from a year earlier to 544 million dirhams ($148 million), beating analyst expectations.
“The story in Abu Dhabi and Dubai post-pandemic has been very similar where people are moving to prime sea-facing properties. After the lockdowns in Europe and the sub-continent we saw a strong push of people moving in,” said Al-Dhiyebi in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “Our Indian buyers are now our second strongest buyers for the first time in Abu Dhabi. What is also interesting is that it is the first time we have crossed 30 percent female investors in off-plan sales since our inception. So the dynamics have changed. People are looking for opportunities. That has resulted in price increases in those prime and horizontal developments and we expect that to continue until the end of 2021.”
His remarks and the company’s underlying performance are the latest indicator of a shift in sentiment toward some segments of the UAE property market, despite a large overhang of completed and soon-to-be-completed new homes.
Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter with its development business reporting a 47 percent year-on-year increase in revenues.


Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area
Updated 11 May 2021

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area
  • “The Journey Through Time Masterplan” will include 5,000 hotel rooms, with 1,000 rooms ready for use by 2023

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s recently announced $15 billion masterplan for the development of AlUla will mean the arrival of some of the world’s most-famous hotel groups in the governorate, as hospitality has been identified as a key investment area in the plan.

“The Journey Through Time Masterplan” — the first in a series of plans for AlUla’s development, which the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) released on April 7 — will include 5,000 hotel rooms, with 1,000 rooms ready for use by 2023 and an overall target of 9,400 rooms by 2035 as part of a wider development strategy for AlUla.

The masterplan covers the core heritage area of AlUla and is being implemented in three phases until 2035, with the first phase set to be completed by 2023.

The total price of the development will be an estimated SR57 billion ($15 billion), out of which SR12 billion ($3.2 billion) is earmarked for primary infrastructure.

“Through The Journey Through Time Masterplan we are developing AlUla’s potential as a destination, a global cultural asset as well as a strong investment,” Wessam Lubbard, chief financial officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News.

“The masterplan presents diverse investment opportunities across multiple asset classes such as landmark cultural projects, social infrastructure, utilities and mobility, hospitality, commercial and residential projects,” he said. “In addition, we have de-risked all future investment by committing our $2 billion seed funding to critical projects in AlUla.”

The RCU believes hospitality is one of the main areas where AlUla’s potential can shine and where partnerships and projects are flourishing at a rapid rate. It is also a sector that can contribute greatly to Saudi Vision 2030 through sustainable growth within the local community.

“We want our hospitality offerings to be a true reflection of the welcoming and warm culture of the local community, rooted in respect for history and nature,” Philip Jones, the RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, told Arab News.

Hotels that already have a presence at AlUla, or are in the midst of building there, include Accor/Banyan Tree, Aman and Habitas. The RCU expects more names to be added to that list soon.

Aman is known for its exclusive properties, many of which are located off the beaten track in exotic destinations, while others can be found in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, such as New York and Tokyo.

Aman’s AlUla Hegra Resort, set to be completed at the end of 2023, will be located in a secluded mountain valley in AlUla’s Nabataean Horizon district near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra. It will comprise 40 luxury villas, a discovery center, a library partially carved into the rock, a subterranean spa and a multi-layered organic orchard celebrating the natural landscape.

“Our partners, including Habitas and Aman, as well as renowned architect Jean Nouvel, have radically different styles but one thing in common — an immersive approach to each destination,” Jones said. “By partnering with world-class brands that understand our landscape, we are creating a destination that puts the visitor experience, as well as the local culture, at the fore.”

The eco-friendly luxury resort chain Habitas is another significant entry to AlUla. The brand, whose flagship location is in Tulum, Mexico — is in the process of building a 100-room property in the desert canyons of AlUla’s Ashar Valley that will incorporate local influences through its music, spa therapies and even astronomy-driven yoga sessions. Importantly, the resort’s modular development will also result in minimal ecological impact.

Accor-run Banyan Tree is expanding its existing Ashar Resort in partnership with RCU within AlUla’s Nabatean Horizon district. The resort will add 47 new villas, bringing its total to 82, in addition to several new restaurants and a spa. The design of the resort is being sensitively devised to complement the striking natural landscape of the Ashar Valley, which is located 15 kilometers from Hegra.

Another great example of RCU’s dedication to and investment in AlUla’s heritage through tourism and hospitality is the building of the first-of-its-kind property by leading architecture firm Atelier Jean Nouvel, which was also responsible for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

The building aims to revive the 2,000-year-old architectural legacy of the ancient Nabataeans, thus bringing back to life an important part of AlUla’s past within a contemporary structure that pays heed to the surrounding ancient rock formations through its sensitively construed architecture and design.

Of principle importance to RCU is investment in the heritage assets and primary infrastructure of AlUla. It has already laid down $2 billion for development projects including the expansion of AlUla International Airport and improvement of security infrastructure, as well as developing key tourism assets including Ashar estate and the Maraya.

The Maraya, a multi-purpose venue that serves as a concert hall and is the world’s largest mirrored building, also calls the Ashar Valley home. Within its mirrored walls, the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie and Lang Lang have all performed during the Winter at Tantora Cultural Festival. The venue is also suitable for large-scale meetings and conferences and hosted the 41st GCC Summit in January 2021, which brought together leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council.