Call to avoid future oil spills

Bicester Advertiser: The tanker Braer is awash as heavy seas pound the wreck near Sumburgh in the Shetlands The tanker Braer is awash as heavy seas pound the wreck near Sumburgh in the Shetlands

An environmental group is using the anniversary of an oil spill off the coast of Shetland to set out a six-point plan to reduce the risk of future accidents.

It is 20 years since the grounding of the Braer tanker, which spilled its cargo of 84,700 tonnes of crude oil into the sea, killing wildlife.

WWF Scotland said that, aside from moving away from oil and gas, Government ministers should avoid deep water drilling in dangerous areas, end subsidies and tax breaks for the oil and gas industry and ban companies with a poor pollution record from operating in the North Sea.

The other measures are finding a permanent solution to emergency towing vessel cover around the coast of Scotland and telling exploration companies to avoid sensitive areas, such as the Arctic.

The Braer, travelling from Norway to Canada, ran aground on rocks at the south of Shetland and spilled all its oil into the sea in January 1993. The weather conditions at the time meant the majority of oil was dispersed throughout the sea and only about 1% ended up on the island coastline, according to the Scottish Government. Monitoring of the spill suggests the impact on the environment and ecology was "largely minimal".

Lang Banks, of WWF Scotland, said: "The Braer disaster was most definitely an extremely close shave in environmental terms. Had it not been for the weather, the spill would have caused much more widespread environmental and economic damage, but we cannot rely on the weather to get us off the hook next time.

"As it was, thousands of birds are still estimated to have perished and marine wildlife, such as shellfish, finfish and marine mammals, were also badly affected. Add to that the thousands of pounds lost by fisheries and salmon farms as a result of oil contamination and it's easy to see why it could have been much, much worse."

Risks still exist and governments are still "hell-bent" on squeezing oil and gas from beneath the sea, he said.

Earlier this week, First Minister Alex Salmond committed to working with the industry to ensure oil and gas remains a "vital" part of energy production. The coming year could see increased capital investment in the industry, which grew from £8.5 billion in 2011 to a predicted £11.5 billion in 2012. "With 24 billion barrels of oil still to be recovered with a wholesale value of £1.5 trillion, the North Sea oil and gas sector has a bright future," he said.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: "Twenty years ago Braer was a wake-up that everything was not right when it came to safeguarding our waters and it is vital that the UK Government never allows complacency to creep in due to the passage of time, because even today oil leaks are still happening. Thankfully the Shetland environment has recovered and such major incidents are very rare. Safety - both for the marine environment and those who work offshore - must be a priority."

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