Alexander L Kielland – Norway’s worst-ever industrial accident123 never came back

Witnessed rescue operation from land

person Kristin Øye Gjerde, Norsk Oljemuseum
Lars B Takla, later CEO at Phillips Petroleum Company Norway, was a chief engineer with Phillips when the Kielland accident occurred. He reports that one of his jobs was to participate in a sub-committee for emergency preparedness in a sort of forerunner to today’s Norwegian Oil and Gas Association, and because of that he was closely involved in the Kielland accident by mobilising equipment and help, and so forth.
— Hovedkontoret ble flyttet til H-bygget i Tananger. Foto: Infofilm/Norsk Oljemuseum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Takla tells: We had divided the North Sea into sectors, and this was a ’sector club’ where we collaborated across national boundaries. Ekofisk lay in the green sector, which was also responsible for Denmark and possible emergency response equipment there as well as in Germany, the southern UK and Norway.

Arne Holhjem worked with me to draw up this sector-club plan. We compiled an overview of all platforms and all standby ships to have to hand. As green sector coordinator,

Kielland was, of course, a floating hotel converted from a drilling rig. Demand for personnel in the area was very high while we were pursuing all these parallel developments. We had 4-5 000 people on the pipelay barges alone, so there were a huge number out there.

We’d also placed a new accommodation module on Henrik Ibsen, Kielland’s sister rig. Both these units were built for drilling, of course, but demand for such work was not that high at the time while a crying need existed for accommodation – which is why the rigs were converted to flotels.

While Kielland was already offshore, Henrik Ibsen was sent up to Stord [south of Bergen] to be fitted with a modern purpose-built hotel. This was the first of its kind in the North Sea and, for that matter, the world.

Hva skjedde med ”Henrik Ibsen”?, forsidebilde, historie,
The living quarter platform "Henrik Ibsen" with an over 20 degrees tilt. Photo: Unknown/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

It was then made available for viewing in the harbour at Risavika [outside Stavanger]. We had allowed people to bring their families and take a look. I was out there with my wife and our two boys, and dinner was served to all the visitors after a tour.

We sat with Svein-Erik Bjørkelund, who was information manager in Phillips and responsible for all media contact. I knew him after a couple of joint visits to Teesside. While we sat there and ate, he was called over the loudspeaker and told to go to the radio shack.

He rushed out. When he returned, he said: ’I think we must go ashore at once. Something serious has happened’. I asked what this was, and he replied: ’I’m not sure, but I think it’s something terrible’.

Accompanied by my whole family, we boarded a supply ship which was shuttling back and forth between rig and harbour. My family returned home, and I went to the emergency response room at head office which was already in full swing. When we got there, 15-20 minutes or thereabouts had already passed.

On a noticeboard where messages were posted as soon as they came in, I saw it stood: ’Alexander L Kielland tilted over, 18.30’. I knew the weather was bad out there, and thought: ’Dear God, nobody’s going to be able to survive this’.

I spent about the next two days there before taking a break and going home. It’s clear that having been involved in something like this leaves a mark on you. You become conscious that such things must be avoided at all costs.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Lars A Takla interviewed by Kristin Øye Gjerde, 19 December 2002.

Alexander L Kielland – Norway’s worst-ever industrial accident123 never came back
Published 25. January 2023   •   Updated 25. January 2023
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Knut Åm – oil and gas veteran

person by Kristin Øye Gjerde, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The special contribution made by Knut Åm to Phillips Petroleum Company was one reason for his appointment in 2014 as a Knight First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St Olav.
— Knut Åm in his office in 1993. Photo: Dag Myrestrand/ConocoPhillips
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Åm was born at Årdal in the Sogn district of western Norway in 1944, and grew up in Oppdal and Volda/Ørsta where he proved an able pupil at school. 

He opted to study mining engineering at the Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH) in Trondheim, graduating with honours in 1967. 

Åm’s first job was with the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU), again in Trondheim, where he worked and conducted research for six years. One of his jobs was to interpret aeromagnetic measurements of sub-surface rocks made from the air, which provide valuable information on geology and prospects for finding petroleum. In a series of publications, he described the big sedimentary basins identified in the Skagerrak between Norway and Denmark and in the Norwegian and Barents Seas. 

He joined the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) in 1974, serving as a section head in the resource department and a principal engineer in the safety department. 

That was followed by three years with Statoil, where he became the state oil company’s first vice president for research and development. His appointments at the time included chairing a research programme on offshore safety, which led to legislation enacted by the Storting (parliament) and a bigger research effort. 

Joining Phillips

olje og gassveteran knut åm,
Hovedkontoret til ConocoPhillips i Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Foto: ConocoPhillips

Åm secured a job with Phillips in 1982 and was soon sent to the head office at Bartlesville in Oklahoma to get better acquainted with the company and its corporate culture. 

After a year in the USA, he returned to the company’s Tananger office outside Stavanger and became the first Norwegian to serve as offshore manager for the Greater Ekofisk Area (GEA). 

That put him in charge of 23 platforms, with responsibility for the waterflooding programme as well as the project to jack up a number of the installations. These major developments extended the producing life of the GEA and sharply increased estimates for recoverable reserves from its fields. 

Åm led this work during difficult times, with low oil prices and the need to implement cost savings and overcome substantial financial challenges. As if that were not enough, he also taught at the University of Bergen from 1985 to 1990 as an adjunct (part-time) professor of applied geophysics. 

First Norwegian chief executive

Knut åm,
Knut Åm ved kontorpulten i 1993. Foto: Dag Myrestrand/ConocoPhillips

After heading operations in the Permian and San Juan Basins at Odessa, Texas, from 1988-91, Åm became the first Norwegian president and managing director for Phillips Petroleum Norway. 

That put him in charge of 3 000 employees in the GEA as well as in Tananger, Oslo, Teesside and Emden. This was when a redevelopment of Ekofisk was planned, along with the future cessation and removal of old platforms.[REMOVE]Fotnote: 

By 1996, Åm was back in Bartlesville – now as vice president and head of all exploration and production in Phillips. He stayed in that job until retiring in the USA during 1999.

Offices and committees

But his working life did not end there. Appointments from 1999 to 2007 include membership of the Statoil board – and many similar posts can be mentioned. 

Åm has been president of the Norwegian Geological Council and the Norwegian Petroleum Society, and chair of the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (now the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association). 

He led the exhibition committee of the 1996 ONS oil show in Stavanger, and has chaired Bergen’s Christian Michelsen Research institute as well as the industrial council of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters.  

In addition to chairing Hitec ASA, he has been a director of several technology companies. 

Mention must also be made of the improved recovery committee appointed by the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy with Åm as chair. This produced a report in September 2010 which presented 44 specific measures for improving the recovery factor on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). 

Through his work and many appointments, Åm has been acclaimed for a combination of expertise, creativity and determination.  He also demonstrated the ability to tackle the requirements of Norway as a nation as well as the industry and its employees – not least with regard to the working environment and safety in a demanding and risky offshore industry. 


In retirement, Åm is an optimist – with regard to the climate as well. “I’m very concerned with nature, but believe we should extract the resources its given us,” he told Otium in 2016. 

“Norway could have a long and good future in the oil and gas industry if people give it more support. Exploring for new deposits is important, but we should also seek to achieve a far better recovery factor from both new and existing fields.” 

“You can naturally concentrate on life’s negative aspects. Then everything’s simply awful. I think you’ll be a far happier person if you prefer to see the positive side of life. I call that self-motivation. We need more of that in the energy sector.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: 

Published 21. October 2019   •   Updated 21. October 2019
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