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Nato and EU chiefs mount show of strength at North Sea gas platform

The heads of Nato and the European Commission visited Norway’s biggest gasfield on Friday in a show of strength intended to highlight their determination to protect crucial energy infrastructure against potential sabotage.

Nato warships and aircraft patrolled as Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary-general, and Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, arrived on the Troll platform, which supplies about 10 per cent of Europe’s gas needs.

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

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

The EU and Nato on Thursday launched a new task force to protect critical infrastructure as the topic reaches the top of the agenda for energy and security policymakers.

Stoltenberg conceded that with 8,000km of gas pipelines and cables in Norwegian waters alone “we cannot protect every metre of this infrastructure at every time”.

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

Ministers in Norway, which replaced Russia as the biggest supplier of gas to Europe after Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, say they are more worried about potential cyber attacks than a spectacular act of 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 hailed Norway’s support in upping production of gas by about 10 per cent to help Europe through the winter. But she said gas was part of the energy “transition” and that 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 continuing production on its continental shelf.

Anders Opedal, chief executive of Equinor, the Norwegian state-controlled petroleum group that operates Troll, said the gasfield would produce beyond 2050, the EU’s target date for reaching net zero carbon emissions.

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

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