The sea is not your dump - Growing Resistance to UK platform disposal

OSPAR meets – Growing Resistance to UK platform disposal

"Shell - The sea is not your dump"

Almost unnoticed by the "big" news, a spectacle is currently taking place in the North Sea northeast of the Shetland Islands and just 200 kilometres off the Norwegian coast. The Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior" with activists are on site in the harsh North Sea. Since Monday morning they have been demonstrating in the Brent Oilfield, climbing two of the four platforms in the northern North Sea and attaching banners on Brent "Alpha" and Brent "Bravo" with the slogan: "Shell - The sea is not your dump!".

Grenpeace points out what has been controversially discussed in London this morning, but has long since been decided: the exploited Brent oil field – exploited by the British oil giant Shell since 1976, shall not, as stipulated in international regulations, be completely dismantled, but be partly left as it is. International resistance is stirring against this impending decision and it is slowly taking off after the Brexit Theater to become a second critical issue between Great Britain and numerous EU states. The Brent oil field in the heart of the North Sea is exhausted, is considered to be completely exploited and does not allow economically viable oil production.

But instead of dismantling the oilfields, which have been running with billions of profit over decades, and disposing them in an environmentally responsible manner, the British Shell Group is preparing to leave parts of the North Sea production facilities in the North Sea with a derogation rule from the British government. Although the Brent platforms "Bravo", "Charlie" and "Delta", above sea-level are to be dismantled, but the structures below sea-level which shall be left are a ticking time bomb for the environment. 

There are 42 submerged oil tanks, some 60 meters high, which contain more than 11,000 tons of oil, according to Shell. When the tanks and chambers corrode and rot this amount of oil will be discharged into the sea.

The industry complains that the dismantling and disposal of this estate is technically very complicated and expensive. Dr. Christian Bussau of Greenpeace Hamburg is a marine biologist and has a doctorate in deep-sea biology. He is specialist concerning these matters and started his career as Greenpeace activist in 1995 demonstrating against the sinking of the tank platform "Brent Spar" in the North Atlantic Shell. The British oil company intended to dispos its "scrap" in 2000 meters of water. After all the oil company was successfully forced to orderly dispose the "Brent Spar".

Almost exactly 25 years later, Dr. Bussau is back in the North Atlantic: Bussau does not accept the excuses of the multinationals: "The Shell Group dominates the production of offshore oil with a high degree of precision and under the toughest conditions like no other oil multinational. Having this in mind it is really hard to believe that the orderly and professional disposal of this production waste should cause problems ". And that is also the opinion of most OSPAR members, who see in this dispute above all the attempt to shift inconvenient follow-up costs to nature and thus to the general public.

Today, the OSPAR Commission meets at its headquarters in London and is required to obtain a three-fourths majority vote on the planned derogations by the British Government, which are in contradiction to the agreements reached in Oslo and Paris.

The Norwegians are only 200 kilometres away from the Brent oil field and the four platforms to be disposed. But they also seem to be more concerned about the question of costs than about the environmental hazards, because they now joined the British attitude. Which is not surprising, because here, too, it is obviously not primarily about the dangers to the environment, but the problem that the Norwegians with their own offshore platforms soon have a similar problem...

The Federal Republic of Germany is a member of OSPAR, the organization responsible for all discharges, dumping and sinking in the area of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, as well as the licensing procedure, etc. for wind farms and oil rigs. OSPAR stands for "Oslo" and "Paris", because in these two cities, almost all European riparian states, including the United Kingdom, agreed in two conventions on uniform, strict regulations for the economic exploitation of these international areas.

The expected exemption of the British government for the local oil multinational would facilitate this the highly complex and costly disposal. Thus, in addition to Brexit, another conflict area is opening up, bringing the British government into discourse with numerous European states. This is mainly because Britain, as an OSPAR member, has instructed its offshore industry to save 35% of the calculated costs for the prescribed and planned disposals. This is only gained by the knowledge that the British Treasury supports its oil industry with not inconsiderable tax breaks for this costly undertaking.

Germany has already officially protested against this looming procedure, because the dangers for the North Sea and the immediate neighbours which shall reside in the industrial leftovers below sea level are incalculable high.

However, unlike 25 years ago in the case of "Brent Spar", the general public has so far largely been left out. The media today prefers to discuss Twitter messages from Trump or focus on the numerous military conflicts, be it military or economic, at all places around the world. 11,000 tons of oil, which should remain in the sea play only a minor role. Brave New World ... 

Guest Post - Dr. Christian Bussau

A few hours ago, I was still sitting in a Greenpeace dinghy - in the middle of the Brent Oilfield in the northern North Sea, supporting our activists who occupied the two Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo shell platforms for more than 24 hours. Greenpeace is there to prevent Shell from abusing the sea as a dump for 11,000 tonnes of oil.

Twenty-four years ago, in May 1995, I visited the Brent oil field 190 km northeast of the Shetland Islands for the first time. We had occupied the Brent Spar platform because Shell wanted to sink the scrap-ripe platform in the sea. The weather was bad, very cold, high waves, and storm. At night I stood on the helicopter platform of the Brent Spar and saw an industrial landscape in the middle of the sea: The brightly lit and skyscraper-high oil platforms, whose gas flaring flames illuminated the low-hanging clouds in red... Millions supported our struggle against the sinking of Brent Spar. But it was about much more: it was about respect for nature and about preventing industry and politics from using our seas as trashcans.

Since 1995, Greenpeace has been fighting for the protection of the oceans and against the oil industry. Shell has not learned anything since. No responsible person would simply dump his waste into nature, sink his car into the nearest lake, or bury his car battery in the garden. And yet Shell wanted to do just that.
24 years later, the four platforms of the Brent oil field are to be disposed of. Shell plans to leave huge parts of it in the sea. So 64 gigantic concrete cells are to rot on the seabed. These concrete cells are 60 meters high, 20 meters wide, have 1-meter thick concrete walls and a capacity of 10,000 cubic meters. They contain 640,000 cubic meters of oily water and 40,000 cubic meters of oily sediment, with a total oil content of 11,000 tons of oil.

For a period of more than 20 years, Shell has been trying to dispose scrap and oil in nature, sometimes a whole platform should be sunk, sometimes 11,000 tons of oil remain in the sea. And the policy, the British government, sees and supports this. At Brent Spar and now at the OSPAR meeting (Oslo-Paris Commission for the Protection of the North-East Atlantic).

Are we learning nothing at all? What else has to happen so that we wake up and learn to respect nature? We must protect our nature, it is our livelihood. The "Fridays for Future" movement shows schoolchildren who now stand up and demand the right to a liveable future. Without environmental protection, climate protection, marine protection, there will not be such a future.

Oil companies like Shell are responsible for marine pollution with their business model. That is no longer tolerable. Shell and the oil industry do not deserve a future. Instead, the future belongs to companies that take responsibility for the earth and our future.