A FORTY tonne oil field well cap designed specifically for UK waters to prevent a Gulf of Mexico disaster on this side of the Atlantic has been revealed at the Offshore Europe conference in Aberdeen.
However a new licence for Chevron to explore for oil west of Shetland has sparked a new outcry from green groups about deep sea drilling, who remain unconvinced the new well cap will work.
The well cap is designed to seal off an underwater oil well in the event of an accident, using a choke and a series of valves to close down an uncontrolled well and stop oil pouring into the sea.
Its modular design allows it to be deployed across a wide range of well types, including deepwater fields west of Shetland where experts have indicated it would be nigh on impossible to clean up a spill.
The device has been rated for depths up to 10,000 feet for wells producing up to 75,000 barrels a day at 15,000psi, far more extreme than anything around the UK, even west of Shetland.
UK energy minister Charles Hendry told the conference: “Having this equipment ready to deploy in the UKCS (continental shelf) significantly enhances our ability to deal with any incident should any occur in the basin.
“Prevention is always the best course however, which is why we strive for the best regulation and procedures in any basin anywhere in the world.”
Environment groups were more critical, saying that the cap had not been tested in the rough north Atlantic waters.
Mr Hendry also said the green light had been given to US firm Chevron to drill for oil at their Aberlour well west of Shetland using the drilling ship Stena Carron, which was boarded by Greenpeace protesters in Lerwick harbour last year.
They have also approved BP’s £700 million plan to develop the Kinnoull field 150 miles north east of Aberdeen, expected to produce 45,000 barrels a day.
Greenpeace are taking the government to court over its decision to grant deep sea drilling licences and said they will examine the Aberlour field licence closely.
Environment groups were swift to condemn the announcement being made before the outcome of investigations into last month’s 216 tonne oil leak on Shell’s Gannet platform.
“When you have the worst oil accident in a decade, in the mature and relatively benign waters of the North Sea, it beggars belief that the government is allowing riskier drilling in more hostile waters,” said Ben Ayliffe, of Greenpeace.
“Our position is clear – there should be a moratorium on deepwater drilling until the government can genuinely demonstrate the UK can cope with a disaster on a scale of that which happened in the Gulf of Mexico.”
WWF Scotland director Richard Dixon accused the minister of wearing rose tinted glasses in his “breathless rush to be nice to the oil industry”.
Friends of the Earth senior campaigner Mike Childs warned that the government could undermine confidence in renewable energy by continuing to back the oil industry.
“Instead of gushing over the oil and gas industries, ministers must boost business opportunities and jobs in the UK’s huge safe energy potential, like wind and wave power,” he said.
However Mr Hendry has insisted that the UK and Norway share the best safety record in the world for oil and gas exploration and production, and efforts continued to improve standards all the time.
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