Environment: Greens claim victory as Shell recycles Brent Spar

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The Independent Online
The redundant Brent Spar is to be made into a ferry quay in Norway instead of being dumped in the Atlantic. It will cost Shell at least pounds 33m extra and there will be little gain for the environment but the decision still represents a historic victory for the green movement, says Nicholas Schoon.

Two and a half years after a daring and brilliant Greenpeace campaign forced Shell to abandon - at the last minute - its plans to dump a vast, old oil-storage buoy, the oil company has finally decided what to do with the 14,500 tonne Brent Spar.

It will be gradually lifted out of the water, cleaned and cut into sections in the sheltered Norwegian fjord where it has been floating since July 1995. These great cylinders of steel and concrete, some 70 feet tall, will then be towed a few dozen miles, on a barge, to be used to support a new quay for roll-on, roll-off ferries, at Mekjarvik in Norway.

"This elegant solution is not an end but a new life for a hard working North Sea workhorse," said Heinz Rothermund, who heads Shell UK Exploration and Production. "This is an option which is as least as good as, if not better than, deep sea disposal."

It was not considered 1995 because there was no decision to extend the Mekjarvik quay then, and the Spar was in UK rather than Norwegian waters.

Shell will now consult on this disposal method and seek the necessary licences from the UK and Norwegian governments. It needs to get the go ahead by the autumn, in order for the slicing up of the Spar to fit in with the quay's planned construction in 1999.

It has taken the company more than two years to select an alternative to deep sea dumping which the UK Government had originally approved.

Dropping the Spar in Atlantic waters 7,000ft deep would have done negligible environmental damage, for it was filled mostly with seawater.

But Greenpeace maintained it was a real environmental threat, would set a bad precedent for dumping future oil installations and was an appalling example to the public when governments were urging people to cut waste and increase recycling.

Its activists occupied the skyscraper-sized Brent Spar twice - when it was still on station in the Brent North Sea oilfield and while it was en route to the dump site. In Germany and Holland, motorists began to boycott Shell petrol.

The original deep sea dumping plan would have cost pounds 10m, and since it was almost fulfilled before Shell changed its mind nearly all that money was spent.

Shell has spent a further pounds 10m on towing and maintaining the buoy and evaluating dozens of alternative options drawn up by rival engineering and construction consortia.

Slicing it up and turning it into a quay will cost the company a further pounds 23m to pounds 26m. That will be done by the winning engineering consortium, Wood GMC. The Port of Stavanger Authority, which is building the quay, will save pounds 500,000 by using sections of Spar instead of more conventional supports.

This option was judged to be the one which did least environmental harm while maximising re-use of the structure.

It should be a happy ending but yesterday there was continued bad feeling between Greenpeace and Shell. Mr Rothermund accused the environmental group of inaccuracy and point scoring, while Greenpeace criticised the company for taking two years and spending millions of pounds to decide on re-use.