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Shell Defends Its Efforts to Stanch North Sea Spill

Shell has been trying to stop a leaking line from its Gannet Alpha platform for the last seven days amid mounting public criticism of its perceived lack of transparency about the spill.

AUGUST 18, 2011

By ALEXIS FLYNN

LONDON—Some 660 tons of oil are still inside a leaking Royal Dutch Shell PLC pipeline in the U.K. North Sea, the Anglo-Dutch energy producer said Wednesday, explaining that efforts to stop the relatively light flow of crude are taking considerable time in order to minimize further leakage.

Shell has been trying to stop a leaking line from its Gannet Alpha platform for the last seven days amid mounting public criticism of its perceived lack of transparency about the spill.

“I cannot stress enough the need to undertake detailed risk assessments and ensure any work considered is undertaken safely,” Glen Cayley, technical director of Shell’s exploration and production activities in Europe, said at a joint press conference with a U.K. government representative.

Shell has estimated that around 216 tons—or 1,300 barrels—of oil have spilled from the Gannet Alpha platform since last week. By Wednesday afternoon, oil was continuing to leak at a rate of less than a barrel a day.

Shell declined to say how long it would take to finally close the leak.

If oil continued to leak from the pipeline, Mr. Cayley said, it was “inevitable” that it would cross the median line into the Norwegian North Sea. He said Shell had informed the Norwegian government of the possibility.

The Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority wasn’t available for comment.

The U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change official assigned to monitor Shell’s response to the spill said that, in his view, “the leak is under control and has now been greatly reduced.” Hugh Shaw said the DECC and the Health and Safety Executive will thoroughly investigate the causes of the incident, after which a full report will be sent to Scottish Procurator Fiscal, or public prosecutor.

The leak is located about 110 miles east of Aberdeen, Scotland, in the North Sea.

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said Shell had been made aware of the need for better communication about what happened and what it was doing to address the leak.

“I have spoken with both Shell’s senior management and the U.K. government’s offshore-incident representative and I stressed, once again, the importance of clear communication on the current operation and the expectation people have for complete openness and transparency on the situation. I was assured by both that this point had been taken on board, and I’m pleased to see that steps have now been taken to put more information in the public domain. This must continue,” said Mr. Lochhead.

The Gannet platform will be shut down for 30 days beginning Thursday, Mr. Cayley said, although he stressed that this was a long-planned maintenance halt. However, inspections would be carried out on the rest of Gannet’s pipelines in light of this incident, he added. Shell co-owns the Gannet platform with Exxon Mobil Corp., with Shell operating the platform.

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