Brent Spar

Brent Spar was a floating oil tank in the North Sea in the possession of the Shell Group and Esso. " Brent " is the name of the oil field and the type of oil conveyed there, saving means in English Spierentonne. Known to the public was through a public campaign by the environmental organization Greenpeace, which was directed against disposal of industrial waste in the sea.


Brent Spar was located 190 km northeast of the Shetland Islands ( UK ) in the Atlantic and served from 1976 to 1991 as an interim storage facility for crude oil, docked at the tankers to transport the oil to refineries on land. In the media Brent Spar was often incorrectly referred to as a production platform.

The structure had a height of 147 meters - the bulk of it under water - a diameter of 29 meters and a weight of 14,500 tons, placing it among the smaller tanks. To tanks for 50,000 tons of oil, various machines and pumps, crew accommodation and a helicopter landing pad were on board.

By pipelines that transport the oil to Sullom Voe oil terminal, the Brent Spar was superfluous and should be sunk in 1995 in the Rockall Trough, a deep gully to the west of Ireland.

Dispute over the disposal

The oil storage and loading platform was known as activists of the environmental organization Greenpeace this from their ship Altair from the April 30, 1995 occupied to prevent the sinking. Greenpeace feared that the sinking could set a precedent for outdated platforms in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. The organization was dedicated to industrial scrap should not be dumped at sea, but recycled on land, as it had been feasible, and in many places already done. Is at odds with a year-long examination of disposal alternatives by BPEO criteria, including the relevant institutions, fishermen's associations, the OSPAR countries and the UK licensing authorities, by Shell. Greenpeace threw shell in front, however, to only want to save costs. Greenpeace was a first correctly of toxic oil residues from about 100 tonnes, but this estimate is based on figures from Shell later revised dramatically upwards.

The cast met with considerable media attention, especially in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. There were calls for boycotts, which met with great response in the media and the general public. Some German authorities did not fill up at Shell their cars. Then, the turnover of the German Shell gas stations fell by up to 50 %. In Hamburg, an arson attack on a Shell petrol station.

On June 16, 1995 after the media had already become aware of the campaign, Greenpeace released a new estimate of the amount of toxic oil residues. The original estimate of 100 tonnes has been corrected to 5,500 tons. After long disputes medial Shell decided on 20 June 1995 to dispose of the platform on land. Shell responded to the crisis with a campaign ( motto: " We will change us"). In it, the company had resorted to their own social marketing campaign in the spring of 1995 under the title " We want to change " operates.

On 5 September 1995, Greenpeace acknowledged that their estimate of the amount of toxic oil residue in the tank was seriously flawed: The above figure of 5,500 tons was much too high. According to the audit report of the Norwegian ship classification society DNV (Det Norske Veritas) of 18 October 1995, for example, the oil residue thus amounted to 75 to 100 tons of about 1.37 to 1.8 % of what is asserted. The measured values ​​were similar to the figures provided by Shell, which had been initially used by Greenpeace. Greenpeace has apologized for the wrong numbers at Shell and the public.

In July 1998, the 15 participating States of the OSPAR conference adopted a sinking ban on oil platforms in the North Atlantic. In the same year the decommissioning of Brent Spar began in Norway, among others, with the support of Thialf, the largest floating crane in the world. A large portion of the purified outer shell is since 2003 the basis for a Kai- foundation of 140 meters length and 20 meters water depth in Mekjarvik, ten kilometers north of Stavanger ( Norway). The rest of the Brent Spar was scrapped. The scrapping costs amounted to DM 70 million ( equivalent to € 36 million in purchasing power at that time ).

Scientific review

In the run on behalf of Shell conducted studies had shown that the sinking of the Brent Spar would not cause significant environmental problems. While there were concerns of a local contamination that could result from a sinking, yet the experts came to the conclusion that the negative environmental impacts compared to other pollution of the oceans would be very small. These estimates were from the U.K. Select Committee on Science and Technology confirmed. The committee also recommended the sinking of the best solution.

In the wake of the Greenpeace campaign, in May 1996, which consists of independent scientists Scientific Group on Decommissioning Offshore Structures ( Shepard Commission) was launched. This essentially confirmed the results of the original analysis of shell, restricted, however, one that further research would be required and that public perception can not be neglected.

In an editorial in the science journal, Nature, Greenpeace was accused in connection with the Brent Spar campaign, not to have been interested in facts. Two British marine scientists pointed out that flow out into many areas of the ocean floor, large amounts of heavy metals as well as crude oil from hot springs. It is in these areas thrive a rich deep-sea life. For micro-organisms on the seabed the sinking of the Brent Spar would even have been beneficial. The overvaluation of relatively small problems would, according to the researchers, lead to the most urgent environmental problems such as overfishing of the North Atlantic, are neglected.