Norwegian state oil company Equinor has released an internal report on chronic leaks from its refinery at Mongstad on Norway's west coast.
Equinor's huge refinery at Mongstad, Norway's largest, includes nearly 200 kilometres of pipes that apparently have been leaking oil and oily water into the ground for years.
"We have acknowledged that we have polluted the ground", Irene Rummelhoff, Equinor's newly appointed executive vice president in charge of marketing, midstream, and processing, told the newspaper Dagens Næringsliv, calling the conditions "unacceptable". "We have systems that measure groundwater pollution, but we don't have a full overview over the extent of pollution in the ground. That's what we're now trying to determine".
The company has reported recovering around 112 cubic metres of oil from the ground so far. Since the piping system takes up a large area, including under the refinery itself, Rummelhoff admitted that some segments may actually be impossible to clean without taking down the entire facility.
"The investigation report reveals that the oil seepage cannot be tied to a particular incident, but is rather due to seepage from the drainage system for oily water, as well as several minor, past discharges from operations and maintenance routines and incidents", Equinor said in a statement, admitting that this may have been going on for at least several decades.
In public, Rummelhoff insisted that the company has had "good control" over leaks and spills into the sea and has tapped all the known sources of the leaks at Mongstad. "We will continue inspections and can't rule out finding more", Rummelhoff told Dagens Næringsliv. Still, she assured that there was no danger of the refinery shutting down.
Rummelshoff called the news "unfortunate", especially in light of Equinor's recent rebranding into a new, green, and sustainable image, yet insisted that the company is "working hard every day to take the environment into consideration".
Lars Haltbrekken, the Socialist Left Party's environmental policy spokesman invited Equinor to a seminar at the Energy and Environment Committee together with environmentalists Bellona and the Norwegian Environment Agency.
"There is reason to react. We are talking about the Norwegian state's oil company. We have a responsibility to clarify what has happened", he explained to the news portal E24.
The problem didn't go unnoticed on social media either.
"Major oil leaks at Mongstad, security breaches on Melkøya, failed upgrades, dubious transactions in Angola, and giant overruns in the US. How can we invest billions of state kroner in a company that abuses our trust and does not show the ability to restructure?", a user wondered on Twitter.
Store oljelekkasjer på Mongstad, sikkerhetsbrudd på Melkøya, mislykket månelanding, tvilsomme transaksjoner i Angola og gigantoverskridelser i USA. Hvordan kan vi satse milliarder av statlige kroner på ett selskap som misbruker vår tillit og ikke viser evne til omstilling?— Kerim Nisancioglu (@SVKerim) December 2, 2020
The Mongstad refinery has been working since 1975 when the company was still known as Statoil. It was earlier embroiled in a cost overrun scandal.
The leak is the latest in a series of troubles for Equinor. The company has been staggering from the COVID-induced plunge in oil prices, reports of losses in its overseas operations, as well as a major fire at its gas processing plant at Melkøya in Hammerfest that forced the closure of the facility and raised serious safety and environmental issues.