UK oil rigs `may be dumped at sea'

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UP TO 60 British oil platforms may have to be dumped in the North Sea at the end of their natural lives, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said last night.

They might not be able to be brought ashore for reasons of technical difficulty or safety, he said.

He denied his forecast contradicted a statement to last October's Labour conference that "there will be no more Brent Spars under Labour."

Brent Spar, the storage buoy whose attempted dumping by Shell led to a successful Greenpeace campaign to stop it, would never have been dumped at sea under Labour, Mr Meacher said, as the present government's policy was to ensure all redundant platforms would be disposed of on land.

However, he said: "We have always recognised there is a class of these platforms which are the heaviest in the deepest water, or those which are found to have a fracture in the structure where it would be dangerous to bring them to land. In these cases the only safe and practicable solution is to dump them at sea." Asked on BBC Radio's World Tonight about how many, he said: "I have seen a figure which suggests that up to 60 might be in that category." Last night Greenpeace said his statement was "astonishing." Chris Rose, deputy director of Greenpeace UK, said: "How the Government can possibly countenance the wholesale dumping of millions of tons of the oil industry's rubbish in the North Sea baffles belief. Labour turns out to be sixty times worse than the Tories.

"Michael Meacher and the Government have misled public opinion in Britain and Europe and their green credentials are holed below the waterline."

Mr Meacher's belief that so many platforms would have to stay in the sea was contradicted yesterday by a Norwegian oil engineer who helped dismantle the Esso Odin gas platform. Ronald Seim told a meeting of the commission which regulates sea pollution in the north- east Atlantic: "There is no cost, safety, environmental or technical reason to hinder total removal of all North Sea platforms."

No need to dump rigs, page 7