United Kingdom to defer decision on derogation permit
Further discussions will be held regarding Shell's plan to leave in place four oil platforms in the Brent Oil Field in the northern part of the North Sea. During a special meeting of the OSPAR Commission on 18 October in London, the OSPAR Contracting Parties discussed in detail the plans of the Dutch company to leave behind the contents and supporting structures of these disused platforms in the North Sea. Alongside Germany, many other countries and the European Commission spoke out in favour of dismantling disused oil platforms as a matter of principle, as far as technically feasible, and completely removing all crude oil contained in the structures. This should also be applicable to platforms that are, technically speaking, especially difficult to dismantle on account of their design. In accordance with OSPAR regulations, oil platforms built after 1998 must be completely removed. During the discussions it also became clear that the assessments carried out to date on the oil quantities and other pollutants that are to remain in the platforms concerned, are not sufficient. The United Kingdom announced that it will initially refrain from making a decision on Shell's application to leave in place the platforms in the Brent Oil Field and will further engage in discussions with the OSPAR Contracting Parties.
State Secretary Jochen Flasbarth commented: "We can only guarantee the extensive protection of our oceans through comprehensive cooperation of all littoral countries. Today's meeting emphatically proved that the OSPAR Commission is just the right place for this cooperation. We welcome the UK's willingness to hold off on issuing a derogation permit and to engage in further consultations before taking a decision. We now have an opportunity to lay down a clear procedure for the future on the environmentally sound disposal of disused oil platforms. Particularly now, at a time when we have undertaken to gradually phase out oil, gas and coal, we have to adopt a safer, environmentally sound and climate-compatible approach to managing the legacies of these energy sources. The close cooperation of the OSPAR Contracting Parties provides a good basis for achieving this."
The UK has said it is willing to refrain from its original plan to issue a derogation permit now and will instead, before taking a decision on Shell's application, engage in further talks with the OSPAR Contracting Parties (thus including the North-East Atlantic riparian countries) and reconsider the decision on whether to remove or leave the oil platforms in place. Germany expressly welcomed this approach. Participants agreed that a precedent was being created that would be crucial for oil platforms to be taken out of service in the OSPAR region in future. According to Shell's plans, the supporting structures of the Brent Bravo, Charlie and Delta gravity based concrete installations and footings of the steel jacket platform Brent Alpha are to be left in place in the North Sea. 62 large-scale concrete cells with approximately 640,000 cubic meter of oily water and around 41,000 cubic meterof contaminated sediment will also remain on the sea bed. Shell estimates that this equates to a total volume of approximately 11,000 tonnes of crude oil. The German Government requested a special meeting of the OSPAR Contracting Parties – with the support of Belgium, the Netherlands, the EU, Sweden and Luxembourg – following the UK's announcement that it will grant Shell a permit for derogation from the fundamental requirement to fully remove disused platforms. Germany raised a formal objection to this in April 2019 within the framework of the OSPAR consultative process. Germany highlighted that it is also, in principle, technically feasible to remove older disused oil platforms without pollution. In addition, Germany and the Netherlands submitted their own independent evaluations, which both recommend the complete removal of the oil platforms. The special consultative meeting on 18 October 2019 was the first of its kind. The meeting, chaired by OSPAR Chair, Ireland, took place in London and was attended by the Contracting Parties and Observer Organisations (industry and environmental associations).