Norway, now Europe's biggest supplier of natural gas, has increased its pipeline inspections in the wake of the suspected blasts on the Nord Stream system last month, the head of the country's gas supply infrastructure told Reuters.
Following the Sept. 26 discovery of damage to the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea off Sweden and Denmark, Norway has put its energy sector on high alert, deploying its armed forces to guard the pipes and offshore platforms.
"Together with Equinor, we have intensified the inspection programme based on this situation," Gassco Chief Executive Frode Leversund said in an interview. Gassco operates an 8,800 km (5,500 mile) long pipeline network connecting Norway with continental Europe and Britain.
The Nordic country has become Europe's top pipeline gas supplier since Russia cut deliveries to the region following its invasion of Ukraine, with Moscow blaming the cuts on technical issues caused by Western sanctions. "We are doing more inspections now than we would have done in a normal situation," Leversund added.
Under its regular maintenance program, inspections are risk-based, he explained.
According to Refinitiv vessel-tracking data, the Havila Subsea offshore supply vessel - equipped with remotely operated subsea vehicles - has spent the last weeks seemingly inspecting Norwegian pipelines to Germany and Belgium.
Another vessel, the Volantis, has visited the key Sleipner gas transport hub, as well as following another section of the Statpipe and Norpipe links ending at Germany's Emden terminal.
"I cannot provide details on specific pipelines or priorities," Leversund said. He confirmed that Gassco is maintaining close contact with the authorities in Germany, France, Belgium and Britain, where it operates receiving terminals. Gassco is also working with the companies that operate gas distribution infrastructure both in mainland Europe and in Britain, he said.
"This cooperation includes information sharing and discussions about how we can handle different challenges together to ensure stable gas supplies to the markets both on the continent and in the UK," Leversund said.
Norway has been stepping up deliveries this year as some operators have prioritised gas over oil production, and Leversund said piped exports could still reach a 2017 record of 117 billion cubic metres.
"Where exactly the final number will land, whether it's less or more, that is very dependent on the last two months of the year," he said.
(Reuters - Reporting by Nora Buli; Editing by Jan Harvey)