Oil giant BP has revealed contingency plans to deal with an oil spill off Shetland double the size of its Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Last month the company announced plans to drill in more than 4,200 feet of water in its North Uist prospect 77 miles north-west of the isles.
Its “worst case scenario” envisages 75,000 barrels a day leaking out of the well for 140 days – 10.5 billion barrels of oil in total. The environmental impact assessment describes the risk of an oil spill as extremely remote.
BP said it had learned from the Deepwater Horizon where the initial blast killed 11 men on board the rig in the Macondo prospect and millions of barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf and has “strengthened the preventative measures taken”. It insisted that no significant blowouts had occured in UK waters in the last 20 years that had led to oil pollution.
But BP’s claims did little to re-assure environmentalists who fear the consequences of a major spill for Shetland’s rich variety of marine wildlife.
BP already has three west of Shetland wells. They produce oil at depths ranging from 140 to 500m. However North Uist will be nearly three times as deep at 1,290m below the surface.
WWF Scotland director Richard Dixon said: “This report once again highlights the dangers to the marine environment of drilling for oil in yet even deeper water. Oil companies simply have no idea how they would deal with a major deep water oil spill. Perhaps the most remarkable part of this study is that the company admit that the 10-day spill they have considered is far from the worst case. Given that the Gulf spill lasted 86 days, the authorities should rule this assessment as incompetent.
“A major accident could release many hundreds of times the oil spilt in the Braer disaster. Wildlife, fishing and tourism in Shetland and beyond could be devastated for many years.
“Last month a House of Commons report found that the current UK oil drilling framework falls short of providing the necessary safeguards to protect Scotland’s marine environment in the event of an oil spill.
“Given the environmental imperative to end our addiction with oil, the focus of our energy policy must be on making a renewables revolution a reality, building on our tremendous natural advantages in geography, skills and ingenuity.
“Pursuing new oil would undermine the leadership role this country has built on tackling climate change and progressing toward a low carbon economy.”
Meanwhile a spokesman for Greenpeace said: “BP fear that the well could leak 75,000 barrels day for over four months – that’s more than double the size of the Gulf of Mexico spill. An oil slick of this size would seriously threaten the fragile wildlife haven that is the Shetland Islands, as well reaching the shores of Norway.
“The Shetlands [sic] and the surrounding waters are home to a rich and diverse wildlife – whales, dolphins, otters and many species of bird.
“It seems unthinkable that the government is allowing a company that has such a shoddy track record of recklessly cutting corners to put all of this at risk. It’s as if Deepwater Horizon never happened.”