Opinion

Jeremy Cresswell: ‘We need more than a belated apology from Shell’

Jeremy Cresswell

Shell is having a rough time just now, with the Brent field having been out of action for many months because of the need to carry out major repairs before production from this ageing North Sea giant resumed a few days ago.

The super major has repor-tedly also accepted the blame for two significant oil spills which significantly damaged the water quality of a section of the vast Niger Delta.

Now we have the UK North Sea Gannet field spills, with the first leak apparently starting last Wednesday, but which only hit the headlines at the weekend after neither the company nor the authorities said anything about it initially.

Now there is a second, but more difficult, leak to cure.

Groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds are rightly up in arms. Not so much because of the oil spill per se but because of the failure of Shell to notify them of the incident, even if there was no immediate threat to birds and other marine wildlife.

And all Shell’s resident top boss in Aberdeen can say belatedly is sorry and that things are under control. One hopes that this is the case.

Surely subsea infrastructure has to be easy to access and repair? You would think so.

However, the Gannet field platform and its infrastructure were a product of a massive UK North Sea cost-cutting drive, horribly called CRINE (Cost Reduction Initiative for the New Era).

With some developments, there was so much emphasis on getting a cheap build that the engineers forgot to factor in how such fields would be maintained effectively in the future. I’m not saying that Shell cut corners with Gannet, but it begs the question.

And this spill raises another question. Why is it that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said nothing to the wider world when it was informed of what had happened?

After all, Shell will have been obliged to report the spill promptly.

Indeed, why aren’t all such incidents reported as a matter of public record, even a few barrels?

And why is it that, when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) publishes its annual North Sea statistics, oil and gas releases are not listed in detail? Who perpetrated what, where and when?

There is an urgent need for transparency on such issues.

By all means, blame and cane Shell, but we should also ask serious questions of DECC and, for that matter, the HSE.

And if we need a model to learn from, we need look no further than Norway where they are far more open.

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