October 17, 2019
Germany calls for environmentally sound removal of disused oil platforms
News Source: Germany Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety
Germany is pushing for a number of disused oil platforms in the North Sea to be fully removed. The company Shell is planning to decommission and leave in place a number of oil platforms in the Brent Oil Field in the northern part of the North Sea. In January this year, the United Kingdom communicated this information and announced it will grant Shell a permit for derogation from the fundamental requirement to fully remove disused platforms. Germany opposed this in April 2019 within the framework of the OSPAR cooperation for the protection of the North Sea. The OSPAR Contracting Parties will therefore come together on 18 October for a special meeting of the OSPAR Commission to discuss Shell’s plans in detail. Germany requested the special meeting with the support of Belgium, the Netherlands, the EU, Sweden and Luxembourg. OSPAR stands for the Oslo Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic. State Secretary at the Federal Environment Ministry, Jochen Flasbarth, will represent the German Government’s position at this meeting.
State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth commented: "Now, 25 years after Shell’s plan, which ultimately did not go ahead, to simply sink the Brent Spar oil platform into the North Sea after decommissioning, this special meeting will be a litmus test for the OSPAR countries: We are creating a precedent. For the first time, the OSPAR decision negotiated in light of the Brent Spar incident will be applied and there are a large number of platforms to be decommissioned in the coming years. I hope that all Parties to the Convention, without exception, are aware of their responsibility and reject Shell’s current plans. Otherwise, we throw the gates wide open for unpredictable environmental consequences."
According to Shell’s plans, the supporting structures of the steel jacket platform Brent Alpha and the gravity base structures Bravo, Charlie and Delta in the North Sea are to remain in place. 62 large-scale concrete cells with approximately 640,000 m3 of oily water and around 41,000 m3 of oil-sand mix will also remain on the sea bed. Shell estimates that this equates to a total volume of approximately 11,000 tonnes of crude oil. According to forecasts, the concrete cells will break apart as a result of decay in around 500 years thus releasing the oil in the cells into the sea.
The German Government considers it unacceptable to leave in place 11,000 tonnes of crude oil in the platforms and the platforms themselves in the North-East Atlantic. Germany bases its opinion, among others, on a commissioned independent expert evaluation.
The extraction of oily liquids and sediment by means of suction is technically feasible, in principle. This is also verified by independent evaluations. However, these evaluations also show that Shell has not sufficiently considered the removal of the structures. In Germany’s view, it is necessary to remove structures which reach up to 55 metres below the water’s surface as it poses a serious threat to shipping and fisheries and could thus constitute a potential risk to the environment in the long term.
The German Government therefore requested a special meeting of the OSPAR Contracting Parties - with the support of Belgium, the Netherlands, the EU, Sweden and Luxembourg - to discuss Shell’s plans in detail.
The meeting of the Contracting Parties and Observer Organisations (industry and environmental associations) will be led by OSPAR Chair, Ireland, and take place in London. The Netherlands has now also submitted an independent expert evaluation which recommends fully removing the oil platforms.
This recommendation is based on the relevant stipulations on general removal in an OSPAR Decision from the year 1998. Alongside Germany and the United Kingdom, all European North-East Atlantic and North Sea riparian states and the EU are Parties to the legally binding convention.