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Total North Sea oil workers strike upends industry harmony

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London/Brussels — Oil workers shut down production at Total's North Sea platforms Monday in a return of labor disruption following a lull during the oil price downturn.

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The Unite trade union confirmed industrial action had begun on the Alwyn, Dunbar and Elgin platforms at 0500 GMT for a 24-hour period, with a series of 24-hour and 12-hour stoppages planned in coming weeks, along with a ban on overtime.

"Production has been stopped and the wells shut," the union said in emailed comments. "No further talks are planned at present."

Impact of North Sea strike

Unite regional officer John Boland called on Total to "come back to us with an improved offer to get our members back to work and the wells up and running again."

The shutdown could be expected to reduce oil flows through the Forties pipeline system by nearly 70,000 b/d from recent levels, together with a small impact on Brent pipeline flows, based on production data from the Oil & Gas Authority.

Oil flows from the most prolific fields, Elgin and the conjoined Franklin field, totaled around 65,000 b/d in the early part of this year according to the OGA.

Forties and Brent crude are both constituents in forming the Platts Dated Brent benchmark.

The Total fields are primarily gas fields, but produce sizable volumes of light hydrocarbon liquids.

In a regulatory statement, Total said the strike would cut gas flows by up to 13 million cu m on Monday, with flows from the Elgin-Franklin complex through the Bacton SEAL pipeline system to resume on Tuesday evening.

The company said it remained committed to consultation and "open dialogue" with the workforce, adding: "What is at stake here is to ensure the long term sustainability of our business in the North Sea, to enhance overall safety and remain the most efficient in our operations."

Elgin-Franklin can flow at 10 million cu m/d and Alwyn at 3 million cu m/d, according to Total's data.


The disruption follows optimistic statements by top executives from European oil majors about the outlook for the North Sea, although a withdrawal by North American majors continues, with Chevron planning to sell its legacy assets. UK oil output has stabilized in the last few years, having fallen by two-thirds since the turn of the millennium.

Both Norway and the UK have seen an uptick in industrial action, with a strike by Norway's second largest offshore union resolved last week.

The strike by Unite centers on offshore shift patterns requiring workers to spend three consecutive weeks offshore, as well as other conditions.

Unions have argued workers need to be compensated after a period of forbearance during the industry downturn.

Separately, contractors with Aker engineering company have voted to take industrial action at Equinor's (formerly Statoil) Mariner heavy oil project starting in early-August, Unite said. Mariner is due to start production for the first time toward the end of the year.

Unite said further 24-hour strikes would take place at the Total platforms on August 6 and August 20, and 12-hour strikes on July 30 and August 13, along with the overtime ban.

A separate strike by Total's workers at the Shetland Gas Plant, which handles flows from the West of Shetland area, was postponed by a week to allow time for talks.

--Nick Coleman,

--Siobhan Hall,

--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,