Oil companies going unpunished for thousands of North Sea spills

Gannett Alpha oil platform in the North Sea

Shell’s Gannett Alpha oil platform, which leaked oil into the North Sea in 2011. Photograph: Ho/Reuters

Oil companies operating in the North Sea have been fined for oil spills on just seven occasions since 2000, even though 4,123 separate spills were recorded over the same period, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has confirmed.

The disclosure came as Decc said on Thursday that the government had offered a “record-breaking” 167 new licences to oil and gas companies seeking to drill in the North Sea. A further 61 “blocks”, or licences, are under environmental assessment.

Total fines resulting from prosecutions between 2000 and 2011 came to just £74,000 and no single oil company had to pay more than £20,000.

Two companies received fines of £20,000: BP, for causing 28 tonnes of diesel to spill into the sea in 2002 from the Forties Alpha platform, and, a year later, Total E&P, for causing six tonnes of diesel to enter the sea during a transfer between fuel tanks on the Alwyn North platform.

Environmental campaigners said it was worrying that Decc viewed itself as operating the global gold standard of offshore regulation, especially as oil companies were now pressing for permission to drill in extreme and vulnerable environments such as the Arctic.

Vicky Wyatt, a Greenpeace campaigner, said: “Ministers and oil companies can spout all the carefully crafted quotes they like to tell us how safe drilling at sea is. But while they’re spouting these words, their rigs are all too often spouting oil into our oceans. The government should hit these companies who pollute the oceans in this way with meaningful fines.

“A few grand is not even a slap on the wrist for companies who pocket millions of pounds every hour.

“It’s both staggering and wrong that some of these companies are now also drilling in the fragile and pristine Arctic, where a similar oil leak would be catastrophic.”

Speaking about the issuing of new drilling licences, the energy minister, John Hayes, said: “Fortune has favoured the UK. Oil and gas from our waters provides around half the energy we need to heat our homes, fuel our cars and power our industry.

“It is the single largest industrial UK investor, supporting 440,000 jobs, and benefits the UK’s trade balance to the tune of £40bn.”

He added: “This successful licensing round shows we are taking the right action to offer certainty and confidence to investors. Our fiscal regime is now encouraging small fields into production and our licensing regime supports new faces as well the big players to invest. Importantly, we are guaranteeing every last economic drop of oil and gas is produced for the benefit of the UK. It is our work with industry that is cultivating this precious resource, making our seas a fertile landscape for investors for many years to come.”

Source: Guardian 25th October 2012


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