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By Ed Crooks: Published: October 24 2006 03:00 | Last updated: October 24 2006 03:00

The decommissioning of North Sea installations first emerged as a public issue in 1995, with the row over the disposal of Brent Spar, writes Ed Crooks.

It was a huge oil storage and loading buoy, brought into use in 1976 before the Brent field was connected to pipelines. It went out of service in 1991, and Shell, its owner, spent two years consulting on what should be done with it.

Sinking it deep in the North Sea was judged the cheapest and safest solution, with “minimal environmental impact”, Shell said. This was a view backed by an Aberdeen university study and then approved by the government at the end of 1994.

In the spring and summer of 1995, however, Greenpeace launched a spectacularly effective public campaign against Shell’s plans, using the Brent Spar as a symbol of what it saw as a much wider problem of dumping waste at sea.

Headline-grabbing tactics, including the occupation of Brent Spar, succeeded in creating a storm of protest.

By June, things had turned ugly. In Germany two Shell service stations were fire-bombed. Soon afterwards, Shell backed down on its plans, and Brent Spar was towed to Norway, where eventually it was broken up. Sections of it were cleaned and cut up to be used as the basis of a new quay for car ferries at Mekjarvik.

Subsequently Greenpeace’s opponents claimed victory after it was forced to admit that its claim that there had been more than 5,550 tonnes of oil on Brent Spar was wrong.

But the group argues to this day that it was right to warn of the dangers or pollution it represented and right to take a stand against disposal at sea, to prevent a precedent being set.

Shell said later that the lesson was that it needed to consult in a much more public way about its decommissioning plans. It has since become an industry-wide source of expertise on the subject.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006 comment (by John Donovan): This article neglects to mention that Shell used illegal undercover operations mounted by a private intelligence agency (a spy firm headed by titled senior Shell directors) to infiltrate Greenpeace and other perceived enemies: check out the link below. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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