BP's plan for a controversial deep-water oil well off Shetland should be halted by the Government, four of Britain's biggest green groups said last night.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), Greenpeace, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Friends of the Earth urged the Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, to refuse consent for the oil giant's proposed North Uist well as any spill from it would pose a "significant risk to wildlife" in one of the UK's most environmentally sensitive areas.
In a joint letter to Mr Huhne, the groups' leaders expressed anger that none of them had been made aware of BP's "public consultation exercise" about the well – which ended last week without a single response from the public – and raised concerns about the difficulty of coping with a deep-water oil leak in the hostile conditions of the North Atlantic.
The Independent disclosed yesterday that BP's own worst-case scenario for a spill from North Uist, to be drilled at 1,290 metres, or 4,230ft, below the surface, would involve oil leaking at 75,000 barrels a day for 140 days. This would constitute the worst oil spill in history and one more than twice the size of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico last year that brought the oil giant to the brink of collapse.
BP admits that in the event of a spill, the Shetland Islands – home to the UK's richest seabird breeding grounds, with more than a million birds present in summer – "may be affected."
Last night's letter to Mr Huhne was from Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB; Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland; Stan Blackley, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland; and John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK.
The case for drilling the well is now being examined by Mr Huhne's Department of Energy and Climate Change, which can give or refuse approval.
The four leaders wrote to the minister: "We strongly urge you to refuse consent for this proposed well. It is less than two years since BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the lessons from this terrible incident are yet to be learned and applied.
"Allowing deep water drilling off Shetland is dangerous and could be very polluting. We believe there is a significant risk to wildlife and protected areas, both around the UK and beyond, from an oil spill that could result from BP drilling this well."
The green leaders also said they were "very disappointed" with BP's consultation process, "which we believe was wholly inadequate, particularly in its failure to proactively engage with key stakeholders such as ourselves".
The comment reflects anger at the perception that BP deliberately tried to bypass potential objectors to the well by giving the consultation exercise very little publicity. None of the groups, who all could be considered prime stakeholders, knew it existed until they saw yesterday's Independent.