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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK

World: Europe

Final resting place for Brent Spar

Shell's decision follows years of controversy over Brent Spar

The UK Government has approved Shell's decision to dismantle the oil storage buoy Brent Spar following years of controversy over its disposal.

Energy Minister John Battle: "At last there is an answer"
The facility - which was due to be dumped at sea by the oil giant - is to be sliced up and a Norwegian quay built from its parts by the year 2000.

Energy Minister John Battle said the company had come up with an "acceptable environmental solution".

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, he said recycling is one of the best options for disposing of decommissioned oil rigs.

"I would hope that it means that we've got a cleaner sea bed in the future, and the pressure in a sense is still on companies to keep an eye on the environment and make sure that we use it properly when we extract oil and gas."

[ image: Greenpeace occupied the Spar in protest at plans to sink it]
Greenpeace occupied the Spar in protest at plans to sink it
The action is in line with a decision made in July by European environment ministers who agreed to ban the dumping of offshore oil rigs.

Owners Shell Expro have chosen a decommissioning plan drawn up by Norway's Maritime GMC and Scottish yard Wood Group Engineering to slice up the Spar and use the parts as the foundation for a new ferry terminal.

The buoy was moved in mid-August from Erfjord in Norway to a deepwater site at Vats, about 60km north of Stavanger, where it will be dismantled.

Sliced-up parts of the 135-metre tall structure will be moved by barge to Mekjarvik, near Stavanger, where they will be placed on the sea bed in mid-1999 to form the base of the quay.

The work is expected to be completed at the end of next year.

Public outcry

Brent Spar had been used as a loading buoy and storage tank for crude oil for 15 years when it was decommissioned in 1991.

An environmental outcry ensued when it emerged that Shell Expro was planning to sink the structure in the Atlantic Ocean.

Environmentalists Greenpeace boarded the structure in April 1995 to protest against its sinking, claiming that the Spar still contained toxic chemicals and oil.

[ image: Sliced-up parts of the buoy will become the base for a ferry terminal]
Sliced-up parts of the buoy will become the base for a ferry terminal
The group's campaign was widely supported by the public, and tens of thousands of people across Europe boycotted Shell's products and petrol stations.

The European Parliament and several European countries spoke out against Shell, but in June 1995 the UK and Norway said they disagreed with a declaration criticising the proposed sinking of the structure.

The UK Government said that underwater disposal remained the best "agreed" option.

International pressure

Bowing to international pressure, Shell abandoned its plans to sink the Spar and commissioned an independent audit from the Norwegian agency Det Norske Veritas (DNV).

Greenpeace sent an apology in September 1995 acknowledging that its estimate that there were still 5,000 tonnes of oil in Brent Spar was wrong. But the group said it still opposed the dumping of any industrial waste at sea.

Shell invited proposals on how to dispose of the structure in an environmentally friendly way.

DNV and the Environment Council were charged with monitoring the ideas. These ranged from converting Brent Spar into an underwater leisure centre to transforming it into underwater reef for protecting England's east-coast beaches against erosion.

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