Michael McCarthy: BP is turning a beautiful ocean into a factory


We know all too well what crude oil can do to the incomparably rich avifauna of Shetland: in 1993 the tanker Braer ran aground there, spilled its cargo, and in the next few weeks more than 1,500 dead birds were picked up on Shetland beaches – a figure thought to be but a fraction of the true death toll.

No one would say BP has not thought hard about the risks of a catastrophic spill from its North Uist well, but thinking hard about a catastrophe is not the same as being able to prevent it. BP's own assessment accepts that in the event of a spill the Shetland Islands "may be affected".

BP is starting a process it may not be able to stop, as it brings industrialisation to these wildlife-rich waters, and begins to turn this beautiful ocean into a factory.