Green campaigners should look at evidence for leaving rigs in place

An abandoned car on Arran
An abandoned car on Arran
Tom Baxter
Opinion by Tom BaxterSenior Lecturer, Chemical Engineering, Aberdeen University

During a recent walk on Arran, I came across this abandoned car. It had clearly been there for a long time and nature was taking its course. It made me think about Greenpeace’s comments on Shell’s Brent Spar.

At the time, Greenpeace campaigner Simon Reddy responded to Shell’s deepwater abandonment plan, saying: “If I was to dump a car in a wood, moss would grow on it, and if I was lucky a bird may even nest in it. But this is not justification to fill our forests with disused cars.”

On the face of it, Mr Reddy had made a good comparison and one the public could readily rally around.

So I’m now a Greenpeace campaigner and say to Arran council that they have to move this car.

Here is how it will probably pan out. Like most councils, Arran is cash strapped and can identify more important and effective ways of spending money to protect the environment. The council pragmatically decides it is best to leave it, as it is doing no harm. Indeed, it is becoming part of the local flora and fauna. They also consider the damage that would be done by getting a pick up truck up the overgrown path and ripping the car from its current position. I am a Greenpeace campaigner and say, “but it is a point of principle”. Arran council accepts that it may well be, but, in this case, following the principle is a very poor use of the available council budget.

The same situation is happening with decommissioned infrastructure removal in the UKCS, but no one on the council is saying let’s be pragmatic here, is this a good use of taxpayers’ money, is it not better to leave in place? No one on the council is asking, “Could we use the money saved to provide other environmental benefits?”

Returning to Mr Reddy’s comparison, it is clearly highly emotive. Dumping implies an ill-considered, irresponsible act. A decision to leave decommissioned architecture in place would be taken by the council on a case-by-case, evidence led basis. And it would not be dumping, it would be leaving something there that has become part of the marine ecosystem. “Fill our forests” is also misleading. If all UKCS architecture was left in place, it would only cover a fraction of the UKCS. In the case of Brent Spar it would be like dropping a nail into Loch Ness.

Come on Greenpeace, be like your colleagues in the Scottish Wildlife trust and at least agree to an evidence based assessment rather than a blanket point of principle.