Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Land Ho' for Sludge-Filled Oil Rig in the North Sea

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Land Ho' for Sludge-Filled Oil Rig in the North Sea

Article excerpt

HAVING decided not to make the ocean a dumping ground, Shell Oil is gloomily examining far more expensive ways to get rid of its massive - and massively contaminated - oil rig off the coast of Scotland.

Just hours before the oil company was due to sink its 65,000-ton Brent Spar storage platform to the seabed 1 1/2 miles below, Shell UK management backed down to international pressure, organized largely by the environmental group Greenpeace.

Greenpeace is chortling over perhaps its biggest victory in its 25-year history. Paul Horsman, who led the group's battle to prevent the Brent Spar rig with its 100 tons of poisonous sludge from being dumped at sea, speaks of "a turning point in attempts to stop huge corporations treating the ocean as a trash can."

Meanwhile, Shell and about a dozen other oil companies operating in the North Sea are scanning their profit-and-loss accounts. Chris Fay, chairman of Shell UK (a subsidary of Royal Dutch Shell), who announced that "international pressure" had forced the company to drop the offshore disposal option, is looking at a bill of $80 million to dispose of the rig on dry land. This compares with the $16 million it would have cost to carry out the original plan.

According to Brian Taylor, technical director of the UK Offshore Operators Association, Shell's decision has "enormous implications" for the oil industry.

"There are about 50 rigs and platforms due to be disposed of in the next 10 years, and we now face a precedent which will be difficult to ignore," he says. About a dozen oil companies have holdings in the North Sea, and some rigs are up to 500,000 tons. Taylor says that if all obsolete rigs have to be disposed of onshore, an entire new industry will have to be created to do the work.

BRITISH Prime Minister John Major who, hours before Shell backed down, had told Parliament he favored sinking the Brent Spar at sea, was said by officials to be "furious" at the company's readiness to "submit to blackmail. …

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