Norway to deploy military to protect its oil and gas installations
(Recasts with military deployment, PM, comment from armed forces)
By Nora Buli
OSLO, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Norway will deploy its military to protect its oil and gas installations against possible sabotage after several countries said two Russian pipelines to Europe spewing gas into the Baltic had been attacked, the prime minister said on Wednesday.
Gas leaks as a result of suspected sabotage discovered on the Nord Stream pipelines on Tuesday have roiled energy markets and heightened security concerns.
Norway is now Europe's largest gas supplier and a leading global oil supplier. It has over 90 offshore oil and gas fields, most of which are connected to a network of gas pipelines stretching some 9,000 km (5,590 miles).
"The military will be more visible at Norwegian oil and gas installations," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.
Attack would be "handled jointly with our allies," he said. Norway is a NATO member.
At sea, the Navy would be deployed to protect offshore installations, while on land, police could increase presence at facilities, he said.
NATO and the European Union have stressed the need to protect critical infrastructure and warned of a "robust and united response" should there be more attacks.
On Monday, Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority had urged greater vigilance over unidentified drones seen flying near Norwegian offshore oil and gas platforms, warning they could pose a risk of accidents or deliberate attacks.
Stoere said on Wednesday the drone sightings took place "mainly in September", involved drones of "various sizes" and that the activity was "abnormal".
Still, he reiterated he saw no specific threat against Norway's offshore oil and gas sector and had not asked for military assistance from its allies.
A military expert had earlier said that the security of the Nordic country's oil sector may be too lax.
"The Norwegian government has to realise that by far the most important strategic object in all of Europe now is the energy or gas imports from Norway," Tor Ivar Stroemmen, a senior lecturer at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy, told Reuters.
"If those deliveries should be cut or stopped or reduced by a large amount, this would cause a complete energy crisis in Europe," Stroemmen said earlier on Wednesday.
Equinor EQNR.OL , Europe's largest gas supplier, said on Wednesday it had stepped up security measures at its installations.
"You can never fully hinder sabotage against 8,800 kilometres of pipelines, that's impossible," said Stroemmen, but added concerted action could make it harder for potential saboteurs to operate.
He said that so far there is a lack of coordination between the oil industry, police and the military, which all have different security responsibilities for on- and offshore installations, Stroemmen said.
The government should hire specialised vessels capable of underwater surveillance readily available in Norway's large maritime industry, he suggested.
"Survey the gas lines, start continuous surveillance of all activity on the surface near those pipelines," Stroemmen said.
The Norwegian military was keeping a "vigilant eye" on the situation, said a spokesperson for the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, the military's operational command centre.
EU vows to protect energy systems after 'sabotage' on Russian
NATO, EU cite dangers to vital infrastructure after pipeline 'sabotage'
Norway oil safety regulator warns of threats from unidentified drones
Norway's Equinor raises emergency preparedness at installations
Reporting by Nora Buli; additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis; editing by Terje Solsvik, William Maclean, Jason Neely and Angus MacSwan
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