US OIL firm Hess is the latest company to acknowledge that Shetland could be smothered in oil if its drilling operations in the north Atlantic go wrong.
In its environmental statement for drilling the Cambo 4 well west of Shetland, Hess admits an oil spill in the deep Atlantic waters could be as bad as last year’s Gulf of Mexico spill, leaking 4.3 million barrels of oil into the sea over two and a half months.
Hess is planning to start a four month drilling operation in May. Their application is available in the Lerwick library and a decision will be taken on granting permission in the next few months.
The company says the risk of such an accident is very low, however if a blowout did happen Shetland would bear the brunt of the pollution while the oil could spread to the shorelines of Iceland, Ireland, Norway and the UK, as far south as Norfolk on England’s east coast.
Attempts to contain the resulting oil slick would be ineffective due to low temperatures, heavy seas and high winds, the company confesses.
Last month the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee expressed concern that inadequate equipment and poor planning could delay attempts to cap a leaking well off Shetland and advised that “prevention was better than cure”.
Last year oil company Chevron admitted that a blowout in their Lagavulin field 100 miles north of Shetland could have a devastating impact on the marine environment.
Both Hess and Chevron claim that fish and sea mammals would be able to escape harm by avoiding any pollution.
WWF Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon said the report highlighted the need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“This report once again highlights the dangers to the marine environment of drilling for oil in yet even deeper water. Oil companies simply have no idea how they would deal with a major deep water oil spill.
“Perhaps the most remarkable part of this study is that the company admit that the 10 day spill they have considered is far from the worst case. Given that the Gulf spill lasted 86 days, the authorities should rule this assessment as incompetent.
“A major accident could release many hundreds of times the oil spilt in the 1993 Braer disaster. Wildlife, fishing and tourism in Shetland and beyond could be devastated for many years.
“Last month a House of Commons report found that the current UK oil drilling framework falls short of providing the necessary safeguards to protect Scotland’s marine environment in the event of an oil spill.
“Given the environmental imperative to end our addiction with oil, the focus of our energy policy must be on making a renewables revolution a reality, building on our tremendous natural advantages in geography, skills and ingenuity.
“Pursuing new oil would undermine the leadership role this country has built on tackling climate change and progressing toward a low carbon economy.”