Skip to main content

Shell UK sentenced over “worst North Sea spill in a decade”

A fine of £22,500 has been handed down to oil, gas and petrochemicals company Shell UK Ltd (‘Shell’) as a result of an oil leak in 2011 which WWF…

A fine of £22,500 has been handed down to oil, gas and petrochemicals company Shell UK Ltd (‘Shell’) as a result of an oil leak in 2011 which WWF Scotland described as the worst North Sea spill in a decade. Following initial detection of the problem on 10 August 2011, which was traced to a relief valve connected to a subsea pipeline in Shell’s Gannet F field, over 200 tonnes of oil spilled into the North Sea about 112 miles east of Aberdeen.

The leak was secured nine days later when divers manually isolated and closed off the relief valves, following which a joint investigation was conducted by the Health and Safety Executive (‘HSE’) and Department for Energy and Climate Change (‘DECC’). Whilst it was found as a result of the investigation that there was neither significant environmental impact nor risk of harm to anyone, it concluded that the fault arising from the Gannet F pipeline resulted in crude oil seeping into insulation between the pipe and its sleeve which was then released into the sea via the relief valves.

The HSE also imposed two improvement notices on Shell, which were both complied with.

Shell pleaded guilty at Aberdeen Sheriff Court to breaches of Regulation 3A of the Offshore Petroleum Activities (Oil Pollution Prevention & Control) Regulations 2005 and Regulation 13 of the Pipelines Safety Regulations 1996.

Whilst Shell’s costs amounted to £100m and £45m for replacement of the pipeline and general costs arising from the incident, respectively, there has been open criticism directed at the level of fine. WWF Scotland director Lang Banks has commented: "While it's welcome that Shell has accepted its guilt, the paltry size of the fine handed down will do little to deter future poor behaviour by it or the rest of the oil and gas industry.”