March 11, 2020 / 6:20 AM / 3 months ago

One person infected with coronavirus at Equinor's offshore oil project

OSLO (Reuters) - A worker at Equinor’s (EQNR.OL) Martin Linge offshore oil and gas development has been diagnosed with the coronavirus and is being held in isolation, the Norwegian energy firm said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: FILE PICTURE: An Equinor flag pictured at the company's headquarters in Stavanger, Norway, Dec. 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The first coronavirus case reported on an offshore oil and gas installation highlights a further risk for an industry already hit by a crash in oil prices.

Norway, western Europe’s top oil and gas producer, has between 8,000 and 10,000 people working at offshore production platforms, drilling rigs and supply vessels at any given time, industry data shows.

The country produces about 2% of global oil and is the second largest natural gas supplier to Europe after Russia. Its Equinor-operated Johan Sverdrup oil field, completed last October, has already become Western Europe’s largest producer.

Located 160 km out in the North Sea, the much-delayed Martin Linge field is under construction with production planned to start at the end of 2020.

Last week, Equinor’s Chief Executive Eldar Saetre told Reuters that shutting down production at the company’s platforms would be a “very last resort” if somebody tests positive for coronavirus.

“Business continuity is the concept that we are working on, how can we continue the business,” he added.

The company said on Wednesday it would reduce meetings, ask people to sit further apart in canteens and clean common areas at Martin Linge installations to prevent further contamination.

“The activity on the field will be reduced today. Personnel remain at the installations they are already located on. Equinor is continuously evaluating further measures,” the company added.

The three installations directly affected are the Martin Linge platform, the Maersk (DRLCO.CO) Intrepid drilling rig and the Floatel [FLOA.UL] Endurance accommodation rig.

The infected person, who had recently been to Austria, arrived to the Martin Linge platform on March 4 and was isolated five days later.

There are currently 776 people offshore working on the project and spread across the three installations, Equinor said in a statement, adding that it was also waiting for test results for two other people.

Equinor also operates the Oseberg and Troll fields, as well as the majority of the more than 80 producing fields on the Norwegian continental shelf, while ConocoPhillips (COP.N) operates Ekofisk.

Other operators include Aker BP AKERBP, Eni’s (ENI.MI) subsidiary Vaar Energi, Wintershall Dea WINT.UL, Repsol (REP.MC), Shell (RDSa.L), Lundin Petroleum (LUPE.ST), DNO (DNO.OL), Total (TOTF.PA) and Okea (OKEA.OL).

Frode Alfheim, the head of Norway’s largest oil workers union, told Reuters he was confident that Equinor could handle the situation, while adding the virus posed a significant risk.

“As in the rest of the society, there is a huge risk that it’s going to spread offshore,” he said.

Crude streams from Norwegian fields Ekofisk, Oseberg and Troll are included in S&P Global Platts dated Brent price assessment, the global price benchmark.

Editing by Giles Elgood, Kirsten Donovan

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