Shell's woes can only get worse

Click to follow
Poor Shell - what another fine mess you've got yourself in. The company could well be forced into another confidence-shattering U-turn over Brent Spar, the oil storage installation that now languishes in a Norwegian fjord while Shell looks at how to dispose of it. The British Government has made clear it will set tough conditions for an inshore break-up, and that it may rule out any new proposal altogether if it does not come up to scratch. After the fury stirred up in Whitehall by the last U-turn, these are not empty threats.

Tim Eggar, the industry and energy minister, dropped a very public hint in the Commons this week that Shell will have to look again at ocean disposal as it develops the possibilities left to it, and he would no doubt be delighted to see the company go back to its original plan, which is what an increasing body of opinion now expects.

An inshore disposal operation around the UK is limited to a few deep- water coastal sites which have yet to be licensed by the Government to carry out the work. Few realise quite how shallow the continental shelf is around most of the UK, and for that matter the German coast, where the voters of Lower Saxony may come to regret the suggestion made by the state's environment ministry that break-up could be done in a local yard.

In the UK, possible sites are mainly in Scotland, where the idea will be about as popular as having a nuclear dump in the backyard. Greenpeace is not the only capable protest group around. Shell's troubles are far from over.