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Shell Shuts Brent North Sea Platforms After Incident, Can’t Forecast Return

By Eduard Gismatullin and Lananh Nguyen – Jan 18, 2011 12:49 PM GMT+0000

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe’s largest oil company, said it shut down production from four Brent platforms in the North Sea following an accident.

“All non-essential personnel onboard the Shell-operated Brent Bravo platform in the northern North Sea returned to shore on Saturday,” Sally Hepton, a London-based company spokeswoman, said by phone today. “We have taken these actions as a precautionary measure.”

Shell declined to say when operations will resume or whether the company would have to declare force majeure on Brent crude shipments. There were no injuries, Hepton said.

Brent crude futures have advanced relative to U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate amid recent outages in the North Sea, such as Statoil ASA’s Jan. 11 closure of its Snorre A platform and Vigdis oil field after a gas leak. Brent crude for March rose as much as 94 cents today before erasing gains.

A 50 metric-ton bar fell from one of the rigs into the sea, Jake Molloy, regional organizer for the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said by phone from Aberdeen, Scotland. Shell evacuated as many as 100 non-essential staff from the Brent Bravo platform, he said.

“We are aware of the situation and are working with Shell,” said Kevin Hegarty, a Liverpool, U.K.-based spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive.

Brent Output

The Brent field supplies about 4.5 million standard cubic meters of natural gas and 20,000 barrels of crude oil a day, equal to about 2 percent and 1 percent of the U.K.’s respective fuel needs, according to Shell.

Brent is one of the four North Sea crude varieties that compose Dated Brent, used as a benchmark to price cargoes from Europe, Africa and Russia.

Daily exports of North Sea Brent blend crude are scheduled at 135,484 barrels a day in January, according to a monthly loading program. Shipments in February are poised to increase 26.5 percent from this month to 171,429 barrels a day, the plan shows.

WTI futures were $7.14 a barrel cheaper than Brent on Jan. 14, the widest gap between the two grades in almost two years.

The “shutdown in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea increased backwardation in the front end of the Brent futures market,” Lawrence Eagles, New York-based head of oil research at JPMorgan Chase & Co., wrote in an e-mailed report last week.

A market is in so-called backwardation when later contracts cost less than earlier ones.

To contact the reporters on this story: Eduard Gismatullin in London at [email protected] Lananh Nguyen in London at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Will Kennedy at [email protected]

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