(Bloomberg) -- Norway’s armed forces stepped up patrols of the country’s energy facilities and NATO allies rushed to offer help, as the sabotage of key gas pipelines raised the stakes in Europe’s energy conflict with Russia.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said Norway has accepted offers of assistance from Germany, France and the UK as it increases its presence around oil and gas installations in the North Sea. NATO is also using its naval and air capabilities to monitor the Baltic and North Seas.
The blasts on the Nord Stream piepline system in the Baltic Sea this week -- which Germany indicated on Friday were probably perpetrated by Moscow -- have dramatically changed the rules in Europe’s economic and energy battle with Russia. The European Union is planning a stress-test operation on energy assets in response, but non-member Norway is seen as the most vulnerable potential target.
“This sends a message of allies’ and NATO readiness to protect and defend each other, also critical infrastructure,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. “These allies, these capabilities, these planes, these ships are also collecting information -- data which can be helpful both for the ongoing investigation but also to monitor these critical energy infrastructures.”
Norway is a vital energy supplier to the EU and the UK and that role has grown as Russia has tightened the squeeze on flows in retaliation for sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine.
Just as Europe is scrambling to fill its gas stores ahead of winter and secure alternative supplies, it’s now having to reassess the risk to pipelines and even LNG tankers.
The Kremlin has denied it was responsible for the Nord Stream blasts.
Norwegian forces are bolstering their presence on land, at sea, in the air, sub-surface and in cyberspace, a spokesperson said. An abnormally high number of drone sightings have been reported on the Norwegian continental shelf in the North Sea, further raising the alarm.
“Everyone’s shocked by the sabotage of Nord Stream so it was very fruitful that colleagues from Denmark, Sweden and Germany informed us on the way that they’re doing research to know what happened over there,” Dutch Energy Minister Rob Jetten told reporters after a meeting in Brussels. “And we exchanged how member states can protect this crucial infrastructure as well as possible.”
Failure to safeguard Norway’s energy links to the European continent would have “colossal” consequences, according to economist Maeva Cousin at Bloomberg Economics. It would trigger energy rationing and “brutally” escalate geopolitical risks, prompting in the first instance a contraction of more than 4% in euro-area output, even with a rapid and controlled response, she said.
Norway has also pledged to make its defense forces “more visible” around the oil and gas facilities and energy giants Equinor ASA, Var Energi ASA and other firms are adding to the security at their facilities.
The country’s pilot union on Friday called for immediate measures from the government to ensure the safety of helicopters flying out to offshore installations. It’s asking for technical equipment that may be available aboard military vessels to track the drones and find out who is operating them. The prime minister will visit a platform on the Equinor-operated Sleipner field in the North Sea on Saturday to meet with oil workers, he said.
Some are also casting doubt over Norway’s ability to secure all the assets, given the sheer vastness of the North Sea areas where the gas pipelines and undersea cables run.
“It’s impossible to protect 8,300 kilometers (5,200 miles) of pipeline,” Dag Harald Claes, a professor at the University of Oslo, said by phone, adding that patrolling with the navy and coast guard will have to intensify.
The country’s security service also claimed it lacks tools to prevent sabotage, not being allowed to use means such as wiretapping and data mining for that purpose. The government plans to propose changes in parliament later this year to the legal framework for the security police, allowing them to “adapt to the changing and developing environment that they’re working in,” Justice and Public Security Minister Emilie Enger Mehl said in an interview on Friday.
The government’s actions build on months of work to boost security, Enger Mehl said.
“We are a coast nation. We are a nation with a large petroleum sector, which is very strategically important to our country,” she said. “It has over many years been important for us to secure it.”
Norway has also increased preparedness in the electronic communication sector, with particular attention around marine fiber cables. Earlier this year, a data cable connecting the Arctic islands of Svalbard to Norway’s mainland was damaged, with officials concluding “human action” had led to the subsea cable’s rupture.
The country’s officials have been warning of sabotage risks in the sector, saying in a 2020 report that foreign intelligence services are making efforts to map the petroleum network on the Norwegian continental shelf. The report singled out Russia and China among potential actors and said such information could be “in the worst case scenario” used for sabotage.
(Updates with comment from prime minister in second paragraph, visit in eighth)
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