You would think that after the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill last year, oil companies would have learned to deal with similar catastrophes better. An oil spill is something that may be unavoidable but dealing with it in a prompt manner that encourages stakeholder awareness is more than clever PR.
North Sea Spill Worst in UK History
American readers may not even be aware of it, but a recent North Sea spill off the coast of Scotland resulted from a faulty Shell‘s oil pipeline that sprung a leak. According to the The Guardian, about five days ago:
“Divers closed a relief valve which was the source of a secondary leak which was discovered after the first major leak in the pipeline at the Gannet Alpha platform had been plugged last week. Government officials are now opening an investigation into how the leak occurred and whether the correct procedures were followed. They will also have to decide whether Shell should pay for government expenses incurred in the clean-up operation.”
So far 218 tonnes (1,300 barrels) of oil has been spilled, making it the worst spill in the UK’s history. The Anglo-Dutch company now has to decide what to do with the pipeline which could still contain as much as 660 tonnes of oil, which increases the potential for damage should more spill. As part of its “commitment to transparency” Shell has been constantly tweeting its progress, giving media updates and interviews.
Shell Not Transparent Enough
However Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth are all accusing Shell of not being transparent enough in its initial reporting of the spill. On August 10th, Shell spotted a “sheen” on the surface of the sea near the Gannet Alpha platform, 176km east of Aberdeen. The company notified the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Maritime Coastguard Agency about the spill but no public statement was issued.
Shell spent two days identifying and then plugging the leak without any statements. Then news was allegedly leaked to oil industry magazine Upstream and they asked Shell to verify the reports and the company confirmed the news. Upstream then reported that Shell was “battling to contain a subsea oil leak.” It was only after that Shell issued its public statement on its website. And only after that did the tweeting and “stakeholder engagement” begin.
Shell has put on a remarkable show of being transparent two days after the spill was discovered. If not for the intervention of Upstream, it might have taken longer to find out about the spill– we really should have heard the news first from Shell. Oil spills do not only hurt a company’s reputation, they also affect fishing communities, wildlife and local ecosystems. Therefore the sooner a response is started, the better.
Shell Spill Does Not Bode Well for Arctic Drilling
According to James Murray on Business Green:
“The problem is that the oil industry’s failure to publicly report environmental incidents only serves to undermine confidence in the sector and its regulators, at the same time as reinforcing the continuing disconnect between the energy we all consume and the risks that are taken providing it.”
With oil companies pushing to drill in the Arctic habitat, NGOs have a valid argument in place to prevent it. If they cannot monitor, report and safeguard the North Sea, how can they be trusted with the more vulnerable areas of the Arctic? According to the RSPB of Scotland, the threat to wildlife due to the Shell spill has been minimal because it happened far away but if it had happened closer to shore, it would have obliterated a major puffin colony.
Although the North Sea spill is nowhere near the scale of the BP spill* last year, Marine Scotland is continuing to send planes and vessels to survey the area around the leak to ensure that Shell sticks to its promises of repairing the leak as soon as possible.
*The BP Spill released 70,000 barrels of oil into the sea per day as opposed to the 1,300 barrels in the Shell Spill.
Photo Credit: The oil sheen from a leak at Shell’s Gannett Alpha platform, 112 miles east of Aberdeen. Marine Scotland.