On the North Sea oil spill
So, it turns out that the Shell oil leak is anything but contained. After three days of telling no one that there was a leak in the North Sea, Shell finally fessed up. Eventually, they admitted it was the biggest in more than a decade, but claimed to have it under control. Now, it appears that there is a second leak.
Now, we know that it is around 200 tonnes of oil. And that’s a lot. It’s also at a bad time of year for sea life – as RSPB have been telling us, there are thousands of young birds in that area of sea, the damage could be huge. But we don’t know much more yet about what damage has been done, and if history of these things tells us anything, we shouldn’t take Shell at their word on the scale of this.
Shell are currently wanting to expand their operations. They are pushing up into pristine Arctic waters, and drilling in wildernesses the world over. If they can’t even keep platforms in the ‘safe’ North Sea – their home turf – in order, and if they are so willing to cover up what spills there are until it becomes clear that someone will notice, why should we ever trust them to drill in more dangerous, and more pristine environments?
Similarly, the governments of both Scotland and the UK have serious questions to answer. Alex Salmond immediate went on telly two days ago to tell viewers that it was a ‘very limited’ spill. Well, he was wrong. Why did he think it was limited? Where was he getting his information? Did he just believe Shell? If so, that’s astonishingly naïve, given the company’s record with the truth. Or is it just that, rather than holding the company to account, he is desperate to suck up to them?
And at Westminster, who are responsible ultimately for much of the regulation of the North Sea, who was it the Chris Huhne – the relevant minister – got to review the regulations last year? Well, according to the Platform report ‘off the deep end’ (available here), it was Oil and Gas UK – the main trade association of the UK offshore oil industry. That’s right: Lib Dem minister Chris Huhne decided that the best way to review the regulation of the offshore oil industry was to ask the industry to review itself.
So, should we be surprised that this leak has happened? No. But it is clear evidence that we can’t trust these companies to expand. And it does remind us how much our governing parties – including Lib Dems and the SNP, are willing to do for big oil companies. Of course, we desperately need to stop expanding anyway, our future relies on it. But leaks like this are a reminder, if we needed one, of quite how filthy this industry is.