NATO and EU chiefs show their strength on the North Sea gas platform

The heads of NATO and the European Commission visited Norway’s largest gas field on Friday to demonstrate their strength, intended to emphasize their determination to protect critical energy infrastructure from potential sabotage.

NATO warships and aircraft were patrolling when Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary general, and Ursula von der Leyen, the committee chair, arrived at the Troll platform, which supplies about 10 percent of Europe’s gas needs.

“Because these installations are so vital, they are also so vulnerable,” Stoltenberg said as ships from the UK, Germany, Spain and Portugal followed behind him.

Western officials are increasingly concerned about protecting critical infrastructure — including the internet and communications, as well as oil and gas — after unexplained explosions destroyed three of the four Nord Steam gas pipelines connecting Russia and Germany and drones were spotted last September near North Sea platforms.

The EU and NATO launched a new task force on Thursday to protect critical infrastructure as the topic moves to the top of the agenda of 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 at any given time”.

However, increased patrols and military exercises near critical infrastructure, as well as additional information sharing between NATO allies, would have a deterrent effect, he argued.

Ministers in Norway, who replaced Russia as Europe’s largest supplier of gas following Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, say they are more concerned about potential cyberattacks than spectacular sabotage.

“This is an essential part of Norway. It illustrates the energy partnership and security partnership between Europe and Norway,” Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on the Troll platform.

Von der Leyen praised Norway’s support to increase gas production by about 10 percent to help Europe through the winter. But she said gas was part of the energy transition and renewable energy would be the future.

Norway is keen to position itself as the democratic supplier of choice for oil and gas and gain commitments through long-term contracts for continued production on its continental shelf.

Anders Opedal, CEO of Equinor, Norway’s state-owned oil group that operates Troll, said the gas field will produce beyond 2050, the EU’s target date for achieving net zero carbon emissions.

But he said Equinor hoped to install offshore wind farms and inject carbon back into the seabed near Troll as Norway invested in green technology.

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