Shell Spills 200 Tons of Oil in the North Sea
ABERDEEN, Scotland, August 15, 2011 (ENS) – The oil leak began on Wednesday, on a flow pipeline system that serves the Shell-operated Gannet Alpha platform in the North Sea. But UK authorities say that Shell did not report the leak until Friday and by then more than 200 tonnes of oil had entered the sea.
“It is not easy to quantify the total volume spilled but we estimate so far that it is around 216 tonnes (1,300 barrels),” said Glen Cayley, technical director of Shell’s exploration and production activities in Europe.
Speaking from Aberdeen Cayley said, “In terms of the volume on the surface, which changes from day to day, it is estimated today at about one tonne, approximately six barrels.”
Gannet Alpha platform in the North Sea (Photo by Net Resources Int’l.)
“This is a significant spill in the context of annual amounts of oil spilled in the North Sea. We care about the environment and we regret that the spill happened. We have taken it very seriously and responded promptly to it,” he said.
Personnel on the Gannet Alpha platform are safe and the platform continues to operate.
Today the spill is under control, with the wellhead shut in, said Cayley. “We estimate that the current rate of leaking is less than five barrels a day.”
The sheen of oil on the surface is half a square kilometer in size. Shell says the spill is a light crude oil mixed with some hydraulic fluid.
“The high winds and waves over the weekend have led to a substantial reduction in the size of the oil sheen as can be seen from the current levels on the water,” Cayley said. “We continue to expect that the oil sheen will disperse naturally due to wave action and that it will not reach the shore.”
A spokesman for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change said, “Shell has informed us that the oil leak at its pipeline at the Gannet Alpha platform east of Aberdeen is under control and has now been greatly reduced. They are working to completely halt any further leakage.”
“DECC’s environmental inspectors will continue to monitor the situation and have been working closely with the company and counterparts from the Health and Safety Executive, Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Marine Scotland since the spill was reported last week.”
The spokesman said, “Although small in comparison to the Macondo, Gulf of Mexico, incident, in the context of the UK Continental Shelf the spill is substantial. But it is not anticipated that oil will reach the shore and indeed it is expected that it will be dispersed naturally.”
“Current estimates are that the spill could be several hundred tonnes,” he said.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said, “We take any oil leak extremely seriously, as the first minister has made clear, and we are continuing to monitor this situation very closely.”
“While there are inevitable difficulties verifying the extent and size of the leak, it’s vital that Shell and DECC make information available on an open, transparent and regular basis,” said Lochhead.
“The Scottish Government’s primary role is to advise on the impact any spill might have on the marine environment,” he said. “Marine Scotland aircraft are currently involved in surveillance work over the affected area. Fishing vessels in the area have also been made aware of the incident.”
A standby vessel, “Grampian Prince,” remains on station monitoring the area, with oil spill response equipment and dispersant available if required.
Shell’s emergency response team remains in place and the company says its personnel are working with the relevant authorities – DECC, MCA, Marine Scotland, and the Scottish Government – to manage the incident and minimize its environmental impact.
“We are also in contact with RSPB and other environmental agencies,” said Cayley. “We will be sharing our latest estimates with them as well as what we know about the nature of the oil, and the monitoring of wildlife.”
Director of RSPB Scotland Stuart Housden said, “We must ensure that those involved are equipped with all the necessary information in order to take the appropriate course of action. Communication and sharing knowledge is key at this stage.”
“RSPB Scotland is ready and willing to offer its advice on how best to protect seabirds at risk, but we cannot do this without monitoring by the relevant agencies and sharing the details of what this monitoring has shown,” Housden said.
Environmental groups across the UK faulted Shell for its lack of transparency. Juliet Swann, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said, “We are deeply worried that we still, even five days after the leak was detected, know far too little about the environmental impact of the spill, how it could impact wildlife, and the scale of the threat to Scotland’s coastal communities and the marine environment that they rely on for their income.”
“It is Shell’s responsibility to keep the public and stakeholders informed, especially in a crisis such as this, but I fear the longer we wait to hear about what is really happening from Shell, the more chance there is that we will never actually know the truth as Shell’s PR machine goes into overdrive,” said Swann.
Greenpeace UK has also expressed concern about the lack of information about the spill coming from Shell.
The Gannet oil field reportedly produced about 13,500 barrels of oil per day between January and April of this year. The field is co-owned half-and-half by Shell and Esso, a subsidiary of U.S. oil firm Exxon, and is operated by Shell.