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Shell could face fines over Gannet oil spill

Royal Dutch Shell may face a criminal investigation and hefty fines in the Scottish courts for its oil leak, which is still trickling into the North Sea.

Shell is currently working to stop 4,500 barrels still in the pipeline from leaking into the sea. Photo: REUTERS

Rowena Mason

By 7:49PM BST 17 Aug 2011

The Government said last night it will make recommendations to the Scottish Procurator Fiscal about whether to prosecute Shell, as its inspectors began to investigate what went wrong on the Gannet Alpha platform’s pipeline.

Hugh Shaw, the Government’s representative for maritime salvage and intervention, said he believed the leak was now “under control”, though it is still leaking around one barrel per day into the sea.

He became involved in the operation on Friday night, three days after the leak started, when it became clear there was “potential for significant pollution”.

Officials have now set up an operations control unit in the North Sea with Government advisers and technical experts, as Shell battles to seal the off the leak once and for all.

Shell’s costs are continuing to mount as it is still working with underwater robots and surveillance flights to monitor the leak, which is thought to have spilt around 1,300 barrels into the sea.

The well was immediately shut in, after the spill was spotted by a helicopter on Wednesday morning. However, there is a hole in the pipeline itself, which contains around 4,500 barrels.

Shell is working to stop this amount from getting into the sea.

It is looking at sending divers down to fix the leak but weather conditions have not been good enough so far.

Mr Shaw said. “My role is to monitor and approve Shell’s response to the spill to ensure that it is dealt with as quickly and as safely as possible, and with minimum impact on the environment.

“Based on the latest intelligence that I have, my view is that the oil leak is under control and has now been greatly reduced as validated by remotely operated vehicle footage and Government aerial surveillance flights.

The priority now and over the coming days is to completely halt any further leakage in what is a complex environment.

“Although the spill was deemed as significant, our information is still that the oil is not expected to reach the shore, and that it will be dispersed naturally.

Inspectors from the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Health Safety Executive are beginning to look into the causes of the accident. Their report will be submitted to the Scottish Procurator Fiscal who will make a final decision on whether to prosecute Shell.

Milford Haven Port Authority was given a £4m fine for the Sea Empress oil tanker spill, which polluted miles of beaches in west Wales in 1996.


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