A £22,500 fine imposed on the energy giant Shell as punishment for the worst North Sea oil spill in a decade has been dismissed as “paltry” by environmental campaigners.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned the size of the fine, for a company that earns billions, would “do little to deter future poor behaviour” by oil and gas companies to avoid more damage to the environment.
The leak from the Gannet Alpha platform in August 2011 was the worst in the region in 10 years and saw more than 200 tons of oil – about 1,300 barrels – flood into the sea.
The fine for the spill, which leaked from a pipeline beneath the sea 112 miles east of Aberdeen, was handed down by Aberdeen Sheriff Court after Shell admitted two charges.
Shell was criticised at the time by environmental groups for failing to tell the media about the spill for two days after it was spotted by a passing helicopter.
The company carried out a review of its North Sea pipeline system and has agreed to pay the fine, expressing “regret” over the spill.
But the WWF said it was disappointed by the size of the fine, calling it a “drop in the ocean” compared to Shell’s massive profits.
“While it’s welcome that Shell has accepted its guilt, the paltry size of the fine handed down will do little to deter future poor behaviour by it or the rest of the oil and gas industry,” said Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland.
“Despite being responsible for the worst North Sea spill in a decade, the level of the fine is literally a drop in the ocean when compared to the billions earned by Shell annually.”
He added that the spill showed an experienced company can still “make a total mess of dealing with an oil leak”, and said “we should all be thankful that the problem didn’t escalate into something much more serious”.
Despite the leak, which followed 10 smaller incidents according to Freedom of Information requests, Shell reported its profits were up by 77 per cent in 2011 – though profits were down this year by 50 per cent due to the global drop in oil prices.
Paul Goodfellow, Shell’s upstream director in the UK and Ireland, said: “We deeply regret the Gannet spill and accept the fine which has been handed down to us.
“We know that no spill is acceptable. Safety is at the heart of our operations and following this incident, a comprehensive review of our North Sea pipeline system was conducted.
“We have learnt lessons from this review and have applied them across our UK upstream operations,” he added.
While the 2011 spill was smaller than the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, it was large by the standards of the North Sea.
The amount released makes it the biggest spill on the UK continental shelf since that in the Hutton field in the North Sea in 2000, when about 350 tons were released.
Shell apologised for the lack of information and said it was not a deliberate attempt to cover up the spill.
Shell took measures to release gas trapped in the pipeline and closed a relief valve with work completed in November 2011, three months after the spill.
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