Algeria Attack Uncovers Fresh Energy-Sector Security Concerns
The deadly attack on an Algerian natural gas complex will do little to discourage the drive for lucrative energy exploration in northern Africa, experts say, but the attack is forcing companies to increase security after largely ignoring risks of operation in the remote desert region, The Associated Press reports.
Spanish, Norwegian and British oil companies quickly evacuated workers from Algerian energy facilities after the well-coordinated hostage-taking by Islamic militants, which resulted in chaos during an Algerian raid, AP reports. While energy companies are reluctant to comment, experts say the financial bounty in the region is too high to scare off large firms, such as BP or Norway‘s Statoil.
Alison Lyall, a security analyst at Harnser Risk Group in Norwich, England, and the author of a recent report for the European Commission on evaluating the costs of security, says companies in the exploration and production industries – even those operating in risky areas – have paid little attention to the issue.
“There is a strong enterprise culture which prides itself on taking risks,” she says in the AP article. “I can show you that the percentage spent on security on very high-value assets is shockingly low.”
Last Wednesday’s assault on Algeria’s Ain Amenas gas complex by a multinational band illustrates the danger posed by Al-Qaida and its offshoots, AP reports. In the wake of the attack, energy companies will have to study operations for possible flaws and upgrade contingency plans, the article states.
Algeria has taken a strong tack against the terrorists, AP reports, as the country rejects offers of help from Britain, the U.S. and others in order to pursue a typical tough and uncompromising response alone. BP and Statoil were compelled to entrust their employees’ lives to the Algerian security forces, and Algeria insists that it has the know-how to ensure the security of energy plants, the article says.
Other companies – including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, whose employees in Nigeria have been the targets of kidnappers and militants – would not comment on security arrangements in Algeria, but Ted Jones, CEO of specialist evacuation company Northcott Global Solutions in London, noted companies alarmed by the attack are scaling up their physical security, the article notes. Jones also says that those companies may be moving from unarmed to armed operations, and shifting nonessential staff to safer locations.
He also told AP that companies can become complacent after a period of safe operation, then change course when an incident occurs: “Suddenly, something like this happens and they realize they’re much closer to the danger … and there’s a sort of panic response, which is perfectly natural.”
But terrorist attacks on the energy and critical infrastructure industry are not new – in 2004, a terror attack at an oil industry compound at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, resulted in another hostage-taking incident and the deaths of 22 people.