Shell cry over spilt oil

The Royal Dutch Shell oil spill in the North Sea is the most substantial in the last decade but will disperse naturally, say both the company and the UK government.

­The global oil and gas company Shell estimated on Monday that 54,600 gallons of oil have spilled into the North Sea from its oil rig off the Scottish coast.

The UK government finds the volume of leaked oil substantial enough given the size of the  country's continental shelf, even if the leak is small compared to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, which dumped 206 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

The government has commissioned the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which monitors the waters around Britain, to make daily flights over the area to monitor the situation in the North Sea. The Scottish authorities also say they are following the incident, but they are pressing Shell for more transparency.

The spill, which began five days ago some 180 kilometers out to sea off the city of Aberdeen, was only acknowledged by the oil giant two days later. According to Shell, the leak has now been reduced to two barrels a day. The company also says there is some hydraulic fluid in the spill, but personnel on the oil rig are safe and the platform is still operating.

The last major oil spill in the North Sea was in 1993, when the oil tanker MV Braer carrying 85,000 metric tones of crude oil ran aground off the Shetland Islands during a storm.

Adam Ramsay, an event manager with the People & Planet student organization, says the fact that Shell did not report the spill straightaway is nothing to wonder at.

“The people who are dealing with Shell would not be surprised at all about the lack of communication remembering that it was only a few days ago that they admitted, after years of lies and cover-ups, there was an enormous spill across Nigeria,” Ramsay told RT. 

Ramsay says the spill will cause trouble not only to the environment, for birds and for fisheries, but also to legislators, as Shell is planning to expand into the Arctic. He also criticizes the stance taken by the UK authorities.

“The UK government has done very little to raise the profile of this incident. Again, this is not something we should be surprised by. The UK government has a long history of being hand-in-hand with the owners of this industry in the country. With the government doing everything they can to keep it quiet and Shell in particular not talking about it, it is not surprising that the media are not covering it,” Ramsay concluded.

However, the technical director of Shell's exploration and production activities in Europe, Glen Cayley, insists that waves would disperse the oil and says the spill is not expected to reach the shore. He did admit, though, that “this is a significant spill in the context of annual amounts of oil spilled in the North Sea.”

The forecast was backed up by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.

“It is not anticipated that the oil will reach the shore and indeed it is expected that it will be dispersed naturally,” they were quoted as saying by The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

­Adam Ma’anit, an energy analyst at Platform, an environmental organization, says the public and the government are relying on Shell to provide all the information on the leak, but the company has not been very forthcoming in revealing all details. 

“We do know that Shell had information about the leak since last Wednesday, but it was not reported until Friday,” he told RT. “The government authorities, even to this day, are still claiming that they do not have adequate information coming from Shell. Certainly the government and public at large are still in the dark about a lot of details. Shell has only released very small bits of information. And there has been no official statements coming from any senior members of the company, including the CEO and the board of directors, which does call into question the seriousness with which the company is taking [the situation].” 

“This leak… [according to] that account, would be the most significant leak in the UK, [the likes of] which the country has not seen for the last 10 years – approaching records from even earlier than that,” he said. “Many people are referring to the Gulf of Mexico disaster last year, putting it in perspective.”