Leak from oil pipeline halted but monitoring will continue

THE worst North Sea oil leak in over a decade has been halted – but last night officials were reluctant to declare the crisis over.

Oil company Shell said it had stopped light crude seeping out of a flowline to the Gannet Alpha platform, 113 miles east of Aberdeen.

The pipeline – about 300ft below the surface – contains up to 660 tonnes of oil and more than 200 tonnes has already spilled since it burst on August 10.

The oil currently covers around four square miles of sea, according to the latest estimates.

Yesterday, Shell divers closed the relief valve from which oil had been seeping at a rate of less than one barrel a day.

Now there will be a phase of monitoring the flowline to check that it remains sealed.

Glen Cayley, technical director of Shell’s exploration and production activities in Europe, based in Aberdeen, said: “Closing the valve is a key step.

“It was a careful and complex operation conducted by skilled divers, with support from our technical teams onshore. But we will be watching the line closely over the next 24 hours and beyond.

“Our next task is to remove the residual oil from inside the depressurised flowline, and that will take time.”

Meanwhile, 24 concrete ‘mattresses’ have been laid to secure the flowline to the seabed and more will be put down in the coming days.

Shell has three vessels on site with dispersants and specialised oil spill response equipment, if needed.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of environmental charity WWF Scotland, said: “Once all the threats to the environment have been removed then we should move swiftly to the inquiry, which we hope will throw some much-needed light on Shell’s risky operations.

“We need to make sure that Shell and other North Sea oil companies can never again put the environment at risk like this.”

The Press and Journal understands that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), UK Government and Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will meet next week to discuss the “scope” of the investigation now under way.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said: “It is essential that such incidents are handled quickly and effectively, with minimal impact on the environment.

“This firm, collaborative response demonstrates that the UK regulatory regime for managing the North Sea is working well. Ultimately, no oil leakage into our waters is acceptable and lessons must be learned.

“A thorough investigation will be carried out by the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change and the HSE and, if appropriate, a full report will be sent to the procurator fiscal.”

Scottish Government Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said fish samples obtained by Marine Scotland’s Scotia vessel have proved clear and further scientific analysis is now being carried out.