Crisis raises fears for worker safety

17 January 2013

Islamist militants with links to Al-Qaeda storm gas field in Algeria, abducting scores of foreign workers

The taking of hostages at an Algerian gas field by terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda is a reminder about the dangers facing foreign workers in the region’s hydrocarbons industry.

Thankfully, these incidents happen infrequently, but that will come as scant consolation to the hostages in Algeria, especially if the situation escalates.

The problem with most onshore oil fields from a security perspective is that they are located in remote regions, hundreds of kilometres away from densely populated areas. This makes them ideal targets for attack.

Hopefully, the situation can be resolved swiftly and if the reports saying that the kidnappings are financially rather than ideology-driven are true, then it is likely be easier to reach a settlement without any more workers being harmed.

Keeping an asset like an oil or gas field secure is taken seriously by governments and international oil companies. Not only do they have the primary responsibility of keeping workers safe, they also recognise that from a financial standpoint any shutdown can cost tens of millions of dollars.

All hydrocarbons facilities are guarded by fences and closed circuit television systems, as well as armed personnel, and it appears that the Amenas field was well protected. However, well organised terrorists in large numbers can cause chaos, and, after an initial attack on a bus was repelled, an accommodation compound at the site was successfully targeted.

The pressure is now on the Algerian authorities to end this crisis as swiftly as possible with no further casualties. The incident raises serious questions about the safety of workers in the Middle East’s oil and gas industry.

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