More than 200 workers evacuated from drilling platform as vessel breaks moorings in stormy seas and floats towards Valhall oilfield

A North Sea oil rig
A North Sea oil rig in Norwegian waters on a calmer day. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty

Hundreds of oil workers have been evacuated from North Sea drilling platforms after an unmanned barge was cut adrift by storms.

BP ordered more than 230 staff to leave the Valhall field in Norwegian waters after the huge barge broke its moorings and threatened to crash into platforms which produce around 50,000 barrels of oil a day.

Workers were also taken by helicopter from the nearby Ekofisk field where ConocoPhillips halted output while one worker was killed and others injured on the Troll field which is managed by Statoil.

“We have shut production down on Valhall as a precautionary measure,” said BP. “We have taken some of the workers to nearby platforms so that they can get production back up quickly when the situation improves.”

Later in the day the British oil company reported that the 110-metre (328ft) barge had safely drifted past Valhall but it was expected to take around 24 hours to get oil production back up and running.

The decision to halt output from the field reduced the likelihood of any explosion or spill if the barge – owned by Norway’s Eide Marine – hit any of the platforms.

A spokeswoman for the Rescue Coordination Centre for southern Norway told Reuters the vessel eventually missed the BP platform by two kilometres.

“The danger is over. There are no other installations between the barge and the coast of Norway, “ said Borghild Eldoen.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency confirmed it was aware of the situation and that UK coastguards were on alert, but the barge remained in Norwegian waters.

A man died when an 18-metre (60ft) wave hit the accommodation block on a platform in the Troll field off the coast of Norway. Three people were airlifted ashore by Norwegian rescuers, but one died from his injuries. He was said to be a Norwegian in his fifties.

The incidents off Norway highlight once again the dangers of working offshore. The Brae Alpha platform in the UK sector of the North Sea was forced to shut down on Boxing Day after a gas leak.

Trade unions have warned that 18 months of low oil prices have led to cutbacks in personnel which could eventually compromise safety.

The price of North Sea Brent crude was up 0.5% at $36.69 after heavy falls the previous day. However, it remains down from the $115 seen in the summer of 2014 and few expect a major bounce-back in the new year.

Oil traders said it was too early to say whether the halted output from Valhall and Ekofisk was having an impact on prices. “It depends how long it [production being halted] goes on. I don’t think we will see the impact, if there is any, till Monday,” said one North Sea trader.

[Source:-the gurdian]

By Adam