Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote

Unmanned installations allow oil companies to save costs on helicopter transport and extra payments, but unions say remote control increases safety risks. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 21 October 2020
Follow

Losing control? Norway’s oil workers face jobs threat as rigs go remote

  • Lower crude prices, pandemic accelerate push for unmanned offshore platforms

OSLO: A shift to operating oil rigs remotely from land, which has been accelerated by lower crude prices, has rekindled concerns among Norwegian unions over the impact on the safety of offshore workers and the loss of well-paid jobs.

These fears were highlighted by Lederne, one of three unions representing offshore workers, which this month shut six fields in a strike that threatened a quarter of Norway’s oil and gas output, rattling global oil markets.

“The strike was not against moving controls onshore. But we needed to get the deal for our members to also be a part of the discussions about moving controls onshore and their safety,” Lederne leader Audun Ingvartsen said.

Lederne, whose strike ended on Oct. 9, is the only Norwegian oil and gas workers union which did not have an agreement for its members at onshore control rooms. Oil companies started experimenting with remote controls about seven years ago, first with smaller, unmanned installations off the coast of Norway.

Europe’s largest oil and gas producer has since become a testing ground for industry attempts to turn this technology to larger, manned platforms.

Lower oil prices and the coronavirus crisis are accelerating this shift, prompting concerns about the safety of staff still working offshore on rigs.

“Our members still wonder whether this (onshore controls) is good enough, whether it is safe enough,” Ingvartsen said.

Both Ingvartsen and Hilde-Marit Rysst, head of another union, Safe, said their member concerns relate to situational awareness of those working offshore and on land.

“When you sit on the bomb, you will react differently than when you are far away from it,” Rysst said.

About 160 km from land, Equinor’s Valemon oil and gas field became the first in Norway to be operated entirely onshore in 2017. It has living quarters and a control room, but most of the time has no crew.

Production is managed in a control room in Bergen, but its operators have to spend two weeks offshore every year to make sure they are familiar with the rig.

Jarle Eide, a representative of the Industri Energi union at Equinor, said workers were more confident than before in the use of remote controls.

“People were initially skeptical, but gradually you get used to it. I don’t think anybody feels uneasy about it today,” Eide said, speaking by phone from the Valemon platform where he is part of a 19-member crew deployed there for a two-week shift.




A technician at Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup field uses a tablet to inspect platform equipment. (Reuters)

“Of course, there is always a risk and things can go wrong, so you have to be focused on safety even during your spare time,” he added.

Aker BP took a step further last year when its Ivar Aasen field became the first manned offshore platform to be managed remotely. There are, on average, about 50 people working on the rig, which is operated on land by about 14 people.

While Ingard Haugeberg, the Industri Energi union’s representative at Aker BP, said there were no indications that workers at Ivar Aasen felt unsafe, there were concerns about fully-automated platforms in the future.

“When the technology takes over 100 percent control, we have to rethink the way forward,” he said. “There will be fewer offshore jobs available in the future, and we, as union, don’t like it.”

Aker BP and Equinor both said they have been seeking to address concerns by moving controls onshore gradually and by ensuring that workers on the platforms can take over control if needed, with emergency response available nearby. “The combination of human competence and technology provide the best solutions also as we see it with regards to maintaining safety and reducing risks,” a spokesman for Equinor, Norway’s largest oil and gas firm, said.

Meanwhile, Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA), which has to approve new ways of controlling offshore operations, said there had been no incidents related to remote controls.

“So far, we have found no reason to raise any objections to remote control technology,” PSA spokeswoman Inger Anda said, adding that ultimate responsibility rested with the companies.

Moving workers from offshore installations allows oil companies to save on helicopter transport and the extra payments workers receive for being offshore, which could account to nearly 50 percent of a total salary, Rysst said.

Other technical innovations, such as pooling data from various sensors on an offshore platform and using machine learning to alert maintenance requirements, also help to reduce costs.

Equinor said digital solutions helped to boost earnings at its flagship Johan Sverdrup oilfield by 2 billion Norwegian crowns ($213 million) since it started production a year ago.

Sverdrup does not have an onshore control room, but Equinor has created a “digital twin” which allows engineers onshore to explore for potential improvements, while offshore workers navigate around its platforms using tablets.

Aker BP, which says on its website it sees “considerable potential for increased revenues after start-up of the onshore control room,” told Reuters it planned to remotely control more offshore platforms in the future, including at the NOAKA development, in the Norwegian North Sea.

And Equinor, which will have an onshore control room for its Martin Linge field expected to start in 2021, has said it would consider using remote control options for small and medium-sized platforms, but that the largest platforms will still be staffed.

“This is the future and we can not stop it, but we need to ensure that offshore workers have at least minimum controls and they feel safe,” Lederne’s Ingvartsen said.


IMF heralds Saudi Arabia’s ‘unprecedented economic transformation’ in glowing report

Updated 11 sec ago
Follow

IMF heralds Saudi Arabia’s ‘unprecedented economic transformation’ in glowing report

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s “unprecedented economic transformation” is progressing well thanks to prudent government policies and successful diversification efforts, according to the International Monetary Fund.

In a report focusing on the changing economic landscape of the Kingdom, the organization highlighted growing domestic demand, ongoing financial reforms, and environmental policies as areas of strength.

The findings comes just days after the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released figures showing that Saudi Arabia’s economy witnessed growth above the G20 average in the first three months of the year.

In a release to mark the the end of an official visit to the Kingdom by the IMF, the organization projected Saudi Arabia’s overall GDP growth will accelerate to around 4.5 percent in 2025 before stabilizing at 3.5 percent per year over the medium term.

It forecast non-oil growth to reach 3.5 percent in 2024 “before picking up in 2025 onwards.”

It added: “Oil output is projected to contract by 4.6 percent in 2024 but increase by 5.1 percent in 2025, reflecting an extension of oil production cuts in 2024 and a gradual recovery to 10 mbpd in 2025.”

Reflecting on the transformation policies undertaken by the Saudi government, the IMF noted that “Efforts to diversify the economy have started to bear fruit.”

The report added: “Building on these successes, it will be important to sustain the non-oil growth momentum, maintain financial sector stability, continue mitigating risks of overheating, reverse declining total factor productivity and ensure inter-generational equity.”

The IMF welcomed the “recent recalibration” of funding requirements associated with the Vision 2030 objectives, and also praised the Kingdom’s drive to become a haven for private sector development.

“Reforms to enhance Saudi Arabia’s business environment and attractiveness for foreign investment are progressing well,” said the IMF, noting that Saudi Arabia climbed 15 notches in the IMD’s World Competitiveness ranking in two years, obtaining the 17th position globally in 2023. 

“Ongoing work to boost human capital through the Human Capability Development program, further increases in female labor force participation, significant strides in digital transformation and AI preparedness, streamlining of fees and levies, promotion of access to land and finance, and stronger governance would further enhance private sector growth, help attract more FDI, and contribute to total factor productivity growth,” the report added.

The IMF described Saudi Arabia’s financial sector as being on a “strong footing,” noting that bank credit growth – mainly to the corporate sector – continues to surpass deposit growth and is expected to remain at around 10 percent in 2024. 

“The continued efforts by SAMA to modernize the regulatory and supervisory frameworks are key to safeguarding financial stability,” said the report, adding: “SAMA should continue using macroprudential tools to forestall possible risks stemming from a lending boom.”

The report also noted Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives, saying that the Kingdom “remains committed” to achieving net zero emissions by 2060. 

“The authorities continue to invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean hydrogen, and carbon capture technologies,” said the IMF, adding: “Eliminating energy subsidies would incentivize energy conservation and improve returns on investment in renewable energies. Augmenting the active green finance portfolio—including through the implementation of the Green Finance framework announced in March 2024 and by an inaugural sovereign green bond issuance planned for this year—would be critical for mobilizing private capital.”


China approves first ETFs tracking Saudi equities, fund managers tell Reuters

Updated 37 min 46 sec ago
Follow

China approves first ETFs tracking Saudi equities, fund managers tell Reuters

SHANGHAI: China approved its first exchange-traded funds investing in Saudi Arabia equities on Friday, fund managers told Reuters, as Beijing expands ties with the Middle East amid rising tensions with the West.

The products, managed by China’s Huatai-Pinebridge Investments and Southern Asset Management separately, will track Hong Kong-listed CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF, which debuted in November by Hong Kong-based CSOP Asset Management, according to the two fund managers.

“The approval will further deepen the cooperation between Saudi and China in capital markets,” said Ding Chen, chief executive officer at CSOP.

The CSOP Saudi Arabia ETF, which tracks the performance of the FTSE Saudi Arabia Index, is down roughly 5 percent so far this year, compared with a 3 percent gain in China’s stock benchmark CSI 300 .

Reuters reported in August that China and Saudi Arabia’s stock exchanges were talking about allowing exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to list on each other’s bourses, as the countries look to deepen financial ties amid warming diplomatic relations.

Through the ETF, investors in China will be able to trade Saudi stocks including the oil giant Saudi Aramco and Saudi National Bank.

Beijing, frustrated by what it sees as Washington’s weaponization of economic policies, has sought to expand ties with countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Its diplomatic push to court others include US ally Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this week, China’s securities regulator told Reuters that it welcomes foreign financial institutions and investors, including those from the Middle East, to expand investment in China.

The statement was made in response to a Reuters request seeking comment on news that Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund had agreed to buy a 10 percent stake in China Asset Management Co., the country’s second biggest mutual fund company.


Saudi deputy minister highlights Kingdom’s manufacturing sector potential to German businesses

Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Saudi deputy minister highlights Kingdom’s manufacturing sector potential to German businesses

RIYADH: Investment opportunities in Saudi Arabia’s manufacturing sector were set out to a host of German companies by the Kingdom’s deputy industry minister during a trade show in Frankfurt.

Engineer Khalil Ibrahim bin Salamah met with representatives from firms including systems suppliers the GEA Group, chemical company LINDE, and packaging solutions company IMA, in a bid to strengthen ties between the two nations at a trade show in Frankfurt.

The minister discussed increasing cooperation with the business people, as well as setting out the most prominent investment opportunities provided in the Kingdom’s industrial sector, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

The meetings were held on the sidelines of ACHEMA, a global trade show for the chemical, pharmaceutical and food industry.

Bin Salamah also visited several big-name German petrochemical factories, such as Sanofi, during which he discussed enhancing innovation and sustainability and discovering opportunities to localize pharmaceutical industries.

He also held talks with representatives from global firms including Jagdamba Enterprise, Baker Hughes, and Panametrics.

 

 


Startup Wrap – Middle East SME funding activity flourishes with significant sums 

Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Startup Wrap – Middle East SME funding activity flourishes with significant sums 

CAIRO: The Middle East region has been witnessing a significant boost in startup activity, with numerous entrepreneurs securing funding across key sectors.  

Additionally, multiple investment pools were established, with Qatari and Emirati venture capitals aiming to further amplify the ecosystem. 

Regional startups are particularly eyeing the burgeoning Saudi market, with UAE-based proptech firm Stake raising $14 million in a series A funding round to enter the Kingdom.

The round was led by Middle East Venture Partners, with participation from Aramco’s Wa’ed Ventures, Mubadala, and Republic. 

Founded in 2021 by Rami Tabbara, Manar Mahmassani, and Ricardo Brizido, Stake is a digital real estate investment platform that offers options for income-generating properties in Dubai. 

The newly raised funds will be used to expand Stake’s services into Saudi Arabia this year. 

In 2022, Stake closed its pre-series A round at $8 million, backed by MEVP and BY Ventures, with participation from returning investors Vivium Holding and Combined Growth Real Estate. 

Saudi edtech Tahdir raises $270k in pre-seed round  

Saudi-based edtech Tahdir has closed a pre-seed funding round of $270,000 from a group of angel investors.  

Founded by Mohammed Al-Doukhi and Khalil Al-Haid, Tahdir’s platform automates daily school and educational management processes, and the company claims to be serving 92 schools with over 30,000 users. 

The investment will help the company enhance its capabilities and expand its operations within the Kingdom. 

Egypt-based medtech i‘SUPPLY secures pre-series A round  

i‘SUPPLY was founded in 2022 by Ibrahim Emam, Malek Sultan and Moustafa Zaki. Supplied

Egypt-based medical tech startup i‘SUPPLY has secured a pre-series A round, bringing its total funding to $2.5 million since its inception in 2022.  

This round saw participation from several investment funds, including Disruptech Ventures, OneStop Capital, Axian Investment CVC, and Egypt Ventures. 

Founded by Ibrahim Emam, Malek Sultan, and Moustafa Zaki, i‘SUPPLY aims to digitize the pharmaceutical business by offering a one-stop-shop solution to quickly predict and overcome supply chain disruptions.  

The new funding will bolster i’SUPPLY’s expansion plans, enhance its capabilities in financing small and medium-sized pharmacies, and further develop its fintech offerings and technological services. 

Egyptian fintech Sahl raises $6m in series A round 

Cairo-based fintech Sahl has raised $6 million in an investment that acts as a series A and seed funding round led by Ayady for Investment and Development. Existing investors Egypt Pay, Delta Electronic Systems, and E-Finance also participated in the round.  

Founded in 2020 by Ahmed Othman, Ibrahim Assal, and Abullah Assal, Sahl is a bill payment platform that allows users to recharge prepaid cards.  

The company is one of the few Egyptian firms integrating directly with several government entities.  

The new funds will help refine and develop Sahl’s offerings and extend its services to Saudi Arabia after its regional launch in the UAE.  

UAE’s Qstay raises $4.6m in pre-series A round 

Jumeirah beach residence. Supplied.

UAE-based hospitality platform Qstay has raised $4.6 million in a pre-series A funding round through a combination of conventional and convertible debt.  

Founded in 2020 by Artur Khayrullin, Ekaterina Rogozhina, Alec Fesenko, and Natalya Fesenko, Qstay operates as a virtual hotel brand with 200 units.  

Qstay provides digital app-based access to nearby pools, beaches, gyms, and spas for guests staying in beachfront properties.  

To date, the company has raised $11.1 million. In July 2022, Qstay closed a debt and equity Seed round of $6.5 million. 

UAE-based Polynome Group announces $100m fund for AI startups 

UAE-based event management company Polynome Group has announced a $100 million fund to invest in artificial intelligence startups.  

The fund will target startups in technology, AI software applications, and robotics, aligning with goals to expand the adoption of digital technologies beginning in the first quarter of 2025. 

The fund will adopt the “founders for founders” concept, investing in seed, series A, and growth stage startups with initial investments ranging from $500,000 to $5 million per company. 

UAE-based contech Tenderd secures $30m in series A funding 

Construction technology firm Tenderd has closed a $30 million series A funding round, led by A.P. Moller Holding, with new investors Quadri Ventures and Saurya Prakash joining existing investors Wa’ed Ventures, Nakhla Ventures, SOMA Capital, and Liquid 2 Ventures. 

Founded in 2018 by Arjun Mohan, Tenderd provides customers with AI-generated insights to increase asset utilization and reduce emissions, focusing on heavy industries such as construction and logistics.  

The capital will fuel technological innovations and support the UAE-based firm’s global expansion efforts. 

Qatar-based Rasmal Ventures launches first home-grown fund 

Qatar-based VC firm Rasmal Ventures LLC has launched its first home-grown fund, aiming to drive innovation and investment in Qatar and the Middle East and North Africa region.  

The Rasmal Innovation Fund I LLC targets high-performance startups in climate tech, fintech, business to business Software-as-a-Service, and AI sectors. 

For the initial closing, the fund has raised $30 million from institutional investors and family offices, with the goal of reaching $100 million in investment commitments. 

Kuwait-based travel tech Waves secures investment round 

Kuwait-based travel tech startup Waves has closed an investment round for an undisclosed amount, co-led by BNK Capital and Aujan Enterprises.  

Founded in 2021 by Abdulrahman Al-Sadoun and Sulaiman Al-Tunaib, Waves is an online marketplace for booking sea trips, marine activities, and chalets with operations in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. 

The investment will be used to enhance Waves’ services in Saudi Arabia. 

E-commerce platform Orisdi raises six-figure bridge round 

Iraq-based e-commerce platform Orisdi has raised a six-figure bridge round of investment, backed by existing investors including Al Sharqiya TV Group, Iraq Venture Partners, and various angel investors.  

Founded in 2019 by Ahmed Al-Kiremli and Hala Usama, Orisdi offers a range of products across verticals such as perfumes, cosmetics, appliances, stationery, and electronics. 

This funding round, which closed in April 2024, will support Orisdi’s business development efforts and highlight the potential of the e-commerce sector in Iraq.


Oil Updates – crude set for best week in over 2 months on solid demand outlook

Updated 14 June 2024
Follow

Oil Updates – crude set for best week in over 2 months on solid demand outlook

LONDON: Brent oil futures prices were steady on Friday and on course for their best week in more than four months after solid projections for crude oil and fuel demand.

Brent crude futures were up 38 cents, or 0.46 percent, at $83.13 a barrel by 2:10 p.m. Saudi time. West Texas Intermediate US crude futures gained 27 cents, or 0.34 percent, to $78.89.

Brent and the US benchmark had gained almost 4.5 percent over the week. That would mark Brent’s highest weekly rise in percentage terms since the week to Feb. 9. For WTI, it was the biggest since the week to April 5.

Price support came from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries this week after it stuck to a forecast for relatively strong growth in global oil demand for 2024 while Goldman Sachs projected solid US fuel demand this summer.

The International Energy Agency, meanwhile, expects oil demand to peak by 2029, levelling off around 106 million barrels per day toward the end of the decade, it said in a report on Wednesday.

However, this week’s price rally cooled somewhat after the US Federal Reserve kept interest rates on hold, with the start of rate cuts unlikely before December.

“In view of the still uncertain economic outlook for the major economic regions, a further price increase is not to be expected for the time being,” said Commerzbank analyst Barbara Lambrecht.

Elsewhere, Russia pledged to meet its output obligations under the pact among the OPEC+ group of producers after saying it exceeded its quota in May.

“No matter how many times it promises to make up for poor compliance at a future date, the market just sees more oil and an agreement that might just possibly unravel,” said PVM analyst John Evans.

Market focus is also on Gaza ceasefire talks, which could alleviate concerns about potential disruption to oil supply from the region.

The US is very concerned that hostilities on the Israel-Lebanon border could escalate, a senior US official said, adding that specific security arrangements are needed for the area and a ceasefire in Gaza is not enough.