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Ekofisk – a cradle for safety progress

Prime minister Trygve Bratteli inaugurated the Ekofisk field on 9 June 1971 Photo: Erik Thorberg/NTB
Roughnecks at work Photo: Industriminne Ekofisk
Working  offshore Photo: Industriminne Ekofisk
Prime minister Trygve Bratteli inaugurated the Ekofisk field on 9 June 1971, marking a milestone in Norwegian oil history.
This was also the start of a 50-year tale of ups and downs, triumphs and disasters, tough times and technological advances.
Safety runs like a red thread through all these years. Norway has undoubtedly achieved a high safety and working environment performance in petroleum operations.

Ekofisk was the first producing field on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). It has played a central role in Norway’s oil history over the past 50 years, and is also a miniature version of that history. The discovery of this field initiated a development phase without parallel, and has made its mark since then on virtually every aspect of Norwegian society.

Ekofisk has included more than 30 platforms, a concrete storage tank, long export pipelines, and big terminals for crude oil, natural gas liquids and gas in the UK and Germany. All these facilities have been in operation to recover hydrocarbons from the chalk reservoirs in the Ekofisk area and bring them to market.

The Ekofisk field
The Ekofisk field today. Almost 30 manned and unmanned facilities have operated in the Ekofisk area at one time or another. The oldest dates from 1973, the newest joined in 2015. A number of these installations are now “cold” – no longer in use – and many have been removed. At the same time, investment is being made in continued development of the field – for another 40 years. Photo: ConocoPhillips

High price

When Norway’s offshore “grand old lady” reaches 50, attention naturally concentrates on the value and prosperity it has created. But the Ekofisk story also includes important steps towards the present level of safety for the whole Norwegian oil sector.

A number of accidents and serious incidents occurred during the first decades of petroleum operations on the NCS, and the Ekofisk area was hard hit. Occurrences there included several helicopter crashes, a fire on the Ekofisk 2/4 A platform in 1975, with three deaths during the evacuation, and the major Bravo blowout two years later.

Then came the Alexander L Kielland disaster in 1980, when 123 people lost their lives. All these incidents are part of Norway’s oil history.

Kielland – important but painful heritage

This disaster proved extremely important for safety progress on the NCS in terms of regulation, supervision and allocation of responsibility between government agencies.

Although much safety work had also been done before Kielland, this disaster revealed weaknesses with emergency preparedness, training, the division of responsibility, regulation and government follow-up. Important and lasting changes and improvements were therefore made to the regime in the following years.

The long-term consequences were very considerable. Large parts of the safety regime were reviewed and reshaped. Changes to the regulations and the division of responsibility form the basis for today’s system and the high level of safety which the NCS now enjoys.

Photo of survivors after the Alexander L Kielland accident
Survivors from the wreck of the Alexander L Kielland arrive at Stavanger’s Sola Airport on the day after the disaster. This rig overturned on 27 March 1980 in the Ekofisk area of the North Sea, with the loss of 123 lives. Photo: Erik Thorberg/NTB/SCANPIX

Museum piece

More than 50 years have passed since Ekofisk was discovered. But this giant field has already been a museum piece for many years.

In line with Norway’s Cultural Heritage Act, the Directorate for Cultural Heritage called in the early 2000s for the field’s industrial heritage to be documented. That job was given to the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, which has collected much written material as well as drawings, photographs and films.

The museum’s Ekofisk-related exhibits include a number of iconic objects, such as the bit used by the Ocean Viking rig when its drill string penetrated the reservoir on 25 October 1969.

Jacking up the Ekofisk 2/ R
Jacking up the Ekofisk 2/4 R riser platform in 1987. Raising this and other facilities was a key technological achievement in the field’s history. Photo: Industriminne Ekofisk

Read the whole story of Ekofisk in English at