Germany has said a special meeting on Shell’s Brent decommissioning plans will be the “litmus test” for a convention to protect Europe’s marine environment.
Ospar, an agreement of 15 European countries, made a ruling following Shell’s Brent Spar episode nearly 25 years ago requiring complete removal of oil and gas installations at the end of their production lives.
Shell was forced to abandon plans to sink the Brent Spar, an oil storage buoy, in the North Atlantic following sustained protests from Greenpeace in the 1990s.
Ospar meets in London later to discuss Shell’s plans to leave the concrete legs of the Brent Bravo, Charlie and Delta platforms in the North Sea, which contradicts Ospar rules.
Concerns have been raised about the contents of 64 concrete oil storage cells within them – each taller than Nelson’s Column – eventually being released into the sea, although Shell said this will only take place gradually over centuries.
Germany’s environment minister Svenja Schulze said it will be the “litmus test” with this being the “first time” the decision following Brent Spar will be applied.
Ultimately the UK government has final say on the Brent plans, though it must consult with Ospar.
Ms Sculze said: “I hope that all parties to the convention, without exception, are aware of their responsibility and reject Shell’s current plans.
“Otherwise, we throw the gates wide open for unpredictable environmental consequences.”
Shell argues that an operation to remove the giant structures would bring a safety risk which, added to the associated costs, would be “disproportionate” to any legacy environmental benefit.
Earlier this week Greenpeace activists scaled the Brent Alpha and the legs of the Brent Bravo protesting Shell’s proposals.
Ahead of the meeting, Ms Schulze claimed whatever decision is made on the plans will set a precedent with a “large number of platforms to be decommissioned in the coming years”.
Shell has previously contested this, saying only 27 installations have these structures in the Ospar region, compared to hundreds of oil and gas platforms that don’t.
Last week Shell issued a statement ahead of the meeting saying it is an “important opportunity” to hear questions from the Ospar countries and they are keen to discuss the issues with them.
Shell said it is “confident” their proposals are safe and environmentally sound.
Concerns have been raised that future ecosystems may be more vulnerable to this than Shell has estimated.
They also called into question the quality of data from Shell’s sampling process for the cells.
The operator said the cells contain oil which is not free floating but attached to sediment within concrete cases which will last “hundreds of years” before they degrade.