Shell battling to stem oil leak

OFFSHORE giant Shell was battling an oil spill in the North Sea last night after a pipeline started leaking.

The company launched an operation to stem the flow after an oily sheen was seen on the surface by the crew of a passing helicopter.

Shell sent a small unmanned submarine to the seabed to investigate the leak from a pipeline serving the Gannet Alpha platform, 112 miles east of Aberdeen.

A spokesman for Aberdeen Coastguard said the helicopter pilot alerted officers to the sheen on the surface on Wednesday and they passed on the information to workers on the installation.

Last night, a Shell spokesman confirmed the company was managing the oil leak and had informed the relevant authorities.

“We deployed a remote-operated vehicle to check for a subsea leak after a light sheen was noticed,” he said.

“We have stemmed the leak significantly and we are taking further measures to isolate it. The subsea well has been shut in, and the flow line is being de-pressurised.

“We continue to monitor the situation on the surface and subsea.

“We have mobilised a spotter plane to monitor the sheen, and a standby vessel is on station with oil spill response equipment and dispersant if required.”

Meanwhile, work has resumed in one of Shell’s most famous oil and gas fields after safety fears forced a seven-month shutdown. Two of the four platforms in the ageing Brent field are back in action.

As revealed by the Press and Journal, a protective fender – thought to weigh about 25 tonnes – fell from the Brent Bravo installation in January. About 100 non-essential staff on the platform were returned to the mainland as a “precautionary measure”.

Production was also halted on Bravo and the three other Brent platforms – Alpha, Charlie and Delta.

But last night Shell said Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo were once again pumping gas to the St Fergus terminal near Peterhead. Brent Delta is expected to follow soon, and Brent Charlie early next year.

Glen Cayley, Shell’s head of upstream in the UK, said the repair work was made difficult by strong winds and high waves in the North Sea. He added: “The work that has been done to resume production is a credit to all concerned and reflects the company’s commitment to putting safety before production.”