Shell mounts new campaign to dump oil rigs

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SHELL UK is embarking on a new public relations offensive that would allow the company to revive its controversial plan to dump the Brent Spar oil rig at sea.

Through the industry's corporate arm, the UK Offshore Operators' Association (UKOOA), the oil multi-national wants to persuade European governments to retain all options for getting rid of unwanted North Sea platforms "including deep sea marine disposal".

Shell UK and the other oil firms also want to "create a climate of political and public opinion which permits such decisions to be implemented without a public backlash," according to a confidential campaign remit put to a number of blue-chip PR companies last month.

The proposed sinking of the Brent Spar in the North Atlantic was abandoned two months ago in the teeth of an enormous public outcry, hostility from the German government, a Greenpeace occupation of the giant storage buoy and a gathering boycott of Shell petrol stations.

The rig has been moored in Ersfjord, north of the Norwegian port of Stavanger, while an independent inventory of its potentially-dangerous chemicals is carried out. No decision on its future will be taken before next year. However, BBC television's Public Eye investigation team has discovered that Shell UK has still not given up the idea of sinking the Brent Spar. Chris Fay, chairman of the company, says in a film "The Battle For Brent Spar" being shown tonight: "You can't rule out any option. For example, in America there was a ban on all dumping and you now have a situation where jackets [rigs] are being dumped not in the deep Atlantic but in coastal waters." Shell UK has the support of the Government in seeking to retain the deep-sea choice. Asked if this is still the best option, Industry Minister Tim Eggar told the programme: "Certainly, as of this moment I have no doubt about that. That is what we have spent three and a half years establishing."

He added: "We are going to be putting forward the case for deep-sea disposal where it is the best practical environmental proposition."

A Greenpeace spokesman said yesterday: "They can spend as much as they like but they are wasting their time. They will not turn round public opinion." However, Trade and Industry officials say privately that the wreck of the Piper Alpha platform, which sank after a fire in July 1988 with the loss of 166 lives, shows no sign of interfering with marine life, despite being host to more dangerous chemicals than Brent Spar.

The Shell initiative contrasts sharply with moves by most northern European states to agree a convention that would lead to a complete ban on deep-sea dumping in 1997.