Shell 'ignored' sea experts

May 24, 1996

Scientific expertise was ignored when disposal options for Shell's Brent Spar offshore platform were drawn up last year, according to a report out this week.

An independent group of scientists and engineers, brought in by energy secretary Tim Eggar, also said that the way the Government and firms examine disposal sites should be more open to comment.

The inquiry followed the controversial Shell attempt to dispose of Brent Spar in the deep Atlantic. The report highlights concerns over Government licensing procedures.

Chaired by John Shepherd, director of Southampton Oceanography Centre, the group said that many critical questions in the Brent Spar case involved the nature of deep ocean. But the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish Office and consultants, "did not fully appreciate this" and paid little attention to the storms and turbidity currents on the ocean floor.

Procedures that led to the identification of deep-sea disposal for Brent Spar were still developing until shortly before the licence was issued. Much documentation was classified, preventing assessment by the wider scientific community.

The results of the Brent Spar survey were not generally available until February, "and even then sections describing the biology of the larger animals were not included in the report and were not available to us at the time of writing this report (March 1996)", said the report.

Tony Rice, a member of the study group says the objective for Government, scientists and firms in the future should be to avoid the "confusion and misinformation" characteristic of Brent Spar affair.

The report says the global impact of deep-sea disposal of large structures such as Brent Spar would be small and local effects appreciable only within a few square kilometres. The scientists stress however that nothing in the report should be taken as promoting or rejecting deep-sea disposal.

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