Shell tries to keep oil leak under control

Hundreds of tonnes of oil could still be inside an offshore pipeline that has been leaking for a week.

The estimate was revealed as Shell yesterday continued to try to stem the flow on the seabed near the Gannet Alpha platform, about 112 miles east of Aberdeen.

Since the leak started last Wednesday, more than 200 tonnes of oil have spilled into the North Sea, making it the worst single leak there for more than a decade.

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The initial large leak was stopped the following day, but it later emerged that a smaller flow from the same source had been detected.

This was described as being in an “awkward” place surrounded by marine growth.

Shell technical director Glen Cayley blamed problems with the pipeline maintenance programme.

“We are talking about hundreds of tonnes of additional oil in the pipeline that we need to preserve and keep there,” Mr Cayley told the paper.

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“Until we have completely eliminated the leak and secured this pipeline, I would say there is still risk.”

He added that work is continuing to figure out how to fix the breach.

Environmental groups have sharply criticised Shell – complaining about a lack of timely information.

Shell, in its last update on Tuesday, said the leakage rate from the second breach was just one barrel a day – adding that the oil was not expected to reach land.

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About 218 tonnes – or 1,300 barrels – had been lost by yesterday afternoon. The total amount of oil discharged into the North Sea in 2009 was 50.93 tonnes.

Dr Richard Dixon, of environmental charity WWF Scotland, said: “We are finally getting a fuller picture of the scale of this crisis as each bit of information is dragged out of Shell. What the company first dismissed as minor is now not only the biggest North Sea spill for a decade, it has the potential to go on for weeks or months, and there could be at least the same amount of oil to leak as the 200-plus tonnes that has already escaped.”