Investigation Finds Shell Has Dreadful Safety Record in North Sea. Now It Wants to Drill in Arctic.

An investigation from a Scottish newspaper, the Sunday Herald, shows that Royal Dutch Shell has been censured for breaking safety rules 25 times in six years, giving it the second-worst safety record in the United Kingdom.

The piece was released days after Shell closed a pipeline leak in the North Sea that dumped about 218 tons of oil into the water – the worst spill in the UK since 2000. It also comes as Shell seeks to drill exploratory wells off the Arctic coast next summer.

The list of censures reported by the Sunday Herald is wide-ranging:

The British oil multinational has been prosecuted, fined and formally reprimanded for repeatedly failing to maintain pipelines and other vital equipment in the North Sea, for failing to report a dangerous incident, and for failing to protect workers from hazardous chemicals.

The revelations, from records held by the Government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE), have led to renewed criticism of Shell in the wake of last week’s oil leak from a pipeline to the Gannet Alpha platform 112 miles east of Aberdeen. The company has been slammed for failing to be open about the leak, which it claimed to have sealed on Friday.

According to the HSE, which released the documents to the Herald, Shell has faced more legal prosecutions for safety and environmental transgressions than any other major oil company. Only a Danish company, Maersk, has received more warnings.

Shell also had one of the worst records for offshore spills in the UK, according to HSE documents:

The most spills were from the Brent Charlie rig, which suffered seven leaks in the two years. The biggest was in April last year when an escape of four tonnes of gas triggered a production shutdown.

Shell’s poor track record prompted experts to question whether the current regulatory regime is working. The company’s performance was “deeply worrying” in an industry which suffered “serious and often potentially catastrophic shortcomings,” warned Professor Andrew Watterson, head of the occupational and environmental health research group at the University of Stirling.

Shell is currently working on obtaining permits through the Department of the Interior to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska. As the Arctic region’s sea ice rapidly melts due to climate change, opening up new oil and gas reserves, companies like Shell are looking to exploit those resources.

Although the Coast Guard’s Admiral has repeatedly warned that there is no infrastructure to clean up a major oil spill in the Arctic, and the Interior Department admitted that climate change is “accelerating” changes in the region in its environmental impact statement, Shell has received conditional approval to drill four exploration wells in the Beufort Sea next year.

But the Interior Department’s environmental review is based on the assumption – put together by Shell itself – that the company could recover up to 90% of oil spilled in the Arctic. Shell’s worst-case scenario was a leak of 480,000 barrels of oil over a 30-day period, forecasting that it would be able to recover between 236,700 barrels and 407,124 barrels.

That is an extraordinarily optimistic scenario. Only eight percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill was recovered; only three percent of last year’s spill in the Gulf was recovered; and a similarly small amount was recovered after July’s Yellowstone oil spill. Yet somehow, even with Shell’s poor safety and environmental track record, that is an acceptable scenario for the government.

Shell’s claims about its clean-up capabilities are as believable as TransCanada’s claim that the Keystone XL Pipeline will be the “safest in the U.S.” – after spilling oil 12 times in one year.


Below are old comments from the earlier Facebook commenting system:

Joe, I post this because I haven’t yet seen your comment on this. A Science Daily article is reporting that an MIT/French modeling study is projecting 62 petatons of carbon from land-based permafrost by the end of this century. However, it is also stating, apparently, that little of it is going to be as methane, because high-latitude warming will dry out the land.

I suspect that this study did not factor in the projected changes to climate over this period. In particular, previous studies suggest that most of the land permafrost area will undergo high precipitation, sometimes rain forest level. It would seem to me that, given that the temperature increases at high latitudes will lead to temps in that period characteristic of a temperate zone, not tropical or sub-tropical, that this would mean that the melted permafrost would remain wet — and therefore there will indeed be a lot of new methane release.

Is my concern reasonable? If so, is there a way to check out if they indeed factored these climate changes into the model? – w

Rakesh Malik · Top Commenter · Photographer/Owner at White Crane Photography

There was a paper not too long ago about this, IIRC on, indicating that:
a) the carbon contribution from the melting permafrost has *not* been accounted for in climate models so far
b) the carbon the Siberian permafrost is emitting as it melts has, so far, been primarily in the form of methane

Whether or not this is conclusive or not I’m uncertain, but I am certain that climate scientists are in fact paying attention to the permafrost and what it’s doing as it melts. Odds are we’ll be seeing some new models from them that take the permafrost feedback into account… and odds are the results won’t be pretty.

Rakesh Malik · Top Commenter · Photographer/Owner at White Crane Photography

How typical of governments. Keep hiring companies that fail in every project, and penalize the few that succeed. Brilliant. And also why the huge government contractors stay in business, since they fail almost all of their projects in some way, often failing quite impressively (Project Trilogy, anyone?).

mtmariner101 (signed in using Yahoo)

Oversight by our government is really nonexistent. It is a complete joke and abysmal past performance is not even part of the permitting criterion. The only protection is to forbid drilling. Once the permits are issued it is just a matter of time before we get another blowout.

Leif Erik Knutsen · Top Commenter

Job security for the First Nations People as their traditional way of life becomes obsolete. I hear Oil Spill response can be very rewarding.

Christopher Winter · University of Iowa

However, Shell’s statement is technically true — just as I can truthfully claim to be “up to 100% capable” of running an oil company.

Kevin Morgan · Rogers, Arkansas

Does this mean that there IS Climate Change…. Snark…..

Donnie Clark

I Work For Delmar Systems For Shell and We Just Got Green Banded, Witch is A Big Deal In The Gulf Of Mexico, Shell Is The Safest Com pony I Have Ever Worked For, And They Expect It .

Dave Aplin

Promises, promises – I’m all through with promises now.


Bottom of Form

Thomas Tilden · UAA Fairbanks

Has this been sent to adn dave?

Comments are closed.