Shell continues spilling oil in North Sea despite efforts to improve

Anglo-Dutch group has been responsible for over 20 pollution accidents in British waters over a six month period

Shell and other major companies are spilling oil, diesel or other contaminants into the North Sea on a daily basis despite industry efforts to improve its safety record.

On the day that Shell reported global annual profits of $27bn (£17 bn), it was revealed that the Anglo-Dutch group has been responsible for over 20 pollution accidents in British waters over a six month period.

Shell admitted “no spill is acceptable” and said it had been working hard to ensure its safety performance was improved by investing heavily in the maintenance of North Sea platforms.

But environmentalists said the latest spill statistics from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) meant Shell and others needed to be threatened with a ban and kept out of the most sensitive waters of the far north.

Speaking at the annual financial results conference, Peter Voser, the Shell chief executive, said the recent accident involving the Kulluk drilling rig off Alaska had cost the company $90m so far with more bills to come.

He admitted a controversial plan to resume operations in the US Arctic this summer was now subject to various internal and external reviews. “We will wait for (the result of) this before taking any decisions,” he explained.

Voser said Shell was taking a “very cautious approach” to drilling in what he knew was a very environmentally-sensitive area as he reported a 15% increase in “clean” current cost of supply (CCS) earnings and raised the dividend 4.7% in the final quarter of 2012.

But the latest Petroleum Operations Notice (PON) 1 data held by the DECC show there were 429 oil and chemical releases overall in the UK North Sea in the 10 months to November 8, compared to 464 for the same period the previous year.

The WWF environmental campaign group said it was time to halt the race to exploit pristine areas in the far north, slash subsidies to oil and gas groups and ban those with poor safety records.

“If such a scheme were in place, then given their record of accidents and spills Shell would almost certainly be on a final warning with targets for improvement. Without the threat of a ban, as it stands now, there are few real incentives to encourage a company like Shell to clean up its act,” said Lang Banks, a spokesman for WWF Scotland.

The latest PON 1 data to November 2012 shows Shell having a spill of “condensate” hydrocarbon liquids on the Leman field on the first of that month while releasing crude on the Teal field on 29 October and “other” materials eight days earlier on the Brent field. There was also a diesel spill by Shell at the Clipper field on 5 September and crude accident at the Gannet field on 21 August.

On that same 29 October date, BP in two separate incidents spilled hydraulic fluid on the West Sole and on the Clair fields while Nexen had an “oil release” on the Buzzard field and Maersk dropped chemicals into the waters off the Balloch field.

The volumes of oil and chemical spills in more than 420 separate incidents in the 10 months to early November are relatively small but the high overall number casts a cloud over a statement made last summer by industry group, Oil & Gas UK, that major and significant hydrocarbon releases in 2011/2012 were at an “all time low”.

Shell, which was fined £900,000 after pleading guilty to safety lapses on the Brent Bravo platform following an accident in 2003, said: “No spill is acceptable and we are working hard to stop spills wherever they may happen. Asset integrity and process safety is Shell’s foremost priority at all times.”

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