European firms stop drilling in Egypt, evacuate staff
Several companies have halted drilling due to Egypt's political unrest, but gas production has not yet been affected.
Mon, Jan 31, 2011 at 12:43 PM
DRILLING: Egypt is one of the world's top 10 exporters of liquefied natural gas, and consumes a lot of its own output, but is not a big oil exporter. (Photo: ZUMA Press)
LONDON - Some big European energy companies have suspended drilling and evacuated staff in Egypt due to political unrest but gas production has not yet been affected, they said on Monday.
Egypt is one of the world's top 10 exporters of liquefied natural gas, and consumes a lot of its own output, but is not a big oil exporter.
Britain's BP, which produces a large share of Egypt's oil and gas, and Spain's Gas Natural, operator of the Damietta LNG plant, said they were evacuating some employees but that operations were unaffected.
Royal Dutch Shell planned to evacuate its international staff on Sunday, while Norway's Statoil also evacuated some staff and suspended drilling for more fuel.
"We have decided to stop the drilling operations for the moment to be on the safe side," a Statoil spokesman said, adding that the company had let some staff leave the country as the uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule intensified.
"They left during the weekend as a precautionary measure as the situation is unstable and we don't know how it is going to develop," he said.
Protesters intensified their campaign on Monday to force Mubarak to quit as world leaders struggled to find a solution to a crisis that has torn up the Middle East political map.
"The levels of unrest, particularly during the last three days, have rattled oil companies as well as global oil markets, as fears have started to rise over the Egyptian regime's stability," Samuel Ciszuk, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Energy, said.
Britain's BG Group — which produces about a third of Egypt's gas and holds stakes in Egypt LNG plant — has stopped drilling. But production from its West Delta Deep Marine offshore gas field — a joint venture with Malaysia's Petronas — and the LNG export plant continued as normal on Monday.
"Drilling activities have been temporarily suspended," a BG spokesman said.
"Gas production continues unaffected and LNG operations continue unaffected ... All our employees, contractors and their families are accounted for and safe."
A spokeswoman for Spain's Gas Natural, which operates the Damietta LNG export plant on the north coast, said it had started evacuating non-essential staff and their families.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren and Karolin Schaps in London, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Jonathan Gleave and Martin Roberts in Madrid; writing by Daniel Fineren, editing by William Hardy)
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