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Government backs Shell over North Sea oil rigs

The UK government has endorsed plans by oil giant Shell to leave some decommissioned North Sea oil infrastructure in place.

Catherine Early:22nd February 2019

The government is supporting plans by Shell to leave leftover oil and chemicals in some of its installations in the North Sea, according to an investigation by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigative journalism team.

Oil and gas operators in the UK are decommissioning their infrastructure as it reaches the end of its life. This has cost companies in the sector more than £1 billion each year since 2014, according to a report by government spending watchdog the National Audit Office.

But decommissioning hundreds of North Sea oil and gas rig will also cost British taxpayers at least £24 billion, due to tax reliefs granted to companies in return for decommissioning.


Shell has proposed leaving portions of its Brent oilfield installations in the North Sea, including the contents of concrete storage cells containing oil and chemicals at three of the four installations – Brent Bravo, Charlie and Delta.

In a document seen by Unearthed, the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED), part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has given its full support to Shell’s proposal.

However, this may undermine the OSPAR Convention, an international agreement designed to protect the marine environment, Unearthed claimed.

The German government has written to environment secretary Michael Gove to express concerns that Shell has failed to properly account for long-term risks to the environment and ship traffic, according to a document seen by Unearthed.


The investigative team understands that it is discussing whether to formally object to the UK’s proposal to allow Shell to leave the infrastructure in the sea. If three or more countries object, the government will have to undertake further consultations.

A spokesperson for Shell told Unearthed that it had met with the German government to discuss its decommissioning plans. “Our recommendations are the result of 10 years of research, involving more than 300 scientific and technical studies,” it said in a statement.

A spokesperson for BEIS said: “Decommissioning proposals are considered on a case-by-case basis and only approved following appropriate consultation with stakeholders.”

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.


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