The future of North Sea oil industry abandonment in the light of the Brent Spar decision
In June 1995 Shell UK announced its intention not to dispose of the Brent Spar in accordance with the declared Best Practicable Environmental Option, that of disposal in the deep sea, suggesting first that this would mean a land-based disposal option would be sought, but later its intention to invite and consider any option that was put forward. This decision which followed one of the most public environmental protests in Europe has thrown North Sea abandonment into the public spotlight, and leaves the existing legal and policy approaches to the abandonment of the northern North Sea oil fields in a state of confusion. This paper seeks to investigate the circumstances which led to this about-turn and to elaborate the possible consequences of this in terms of the policy approaches and specific procedures previously adopted to satisfy the requirements of international law. More specifically it seeks to identify the circumstances which might allow for a successful future partial abandonment option (i.e. one that involves the disposal of part or parts of an installation at sea), and attempts some conclusions regarding the influence of science and broader societal values on such decisions.
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