Judge and Jury: Shell looks surer but Brent Spar plans could be a little slicker - Shell is reclaiming the initiative over the disposal of the Brent Spar oil platform, but the proposals have done little to fire the public’s imagination, says David

Let’s play a word association game. ’Brent Spar’ - ’Greenpeace’.

Let’s play a word association game. ’Brent Spar’ -


Not the answer expected, try again. ’Brent Spar’ - ’Shell’. That’s


The fact is that Shell spent millions building Brent Spar, demonstrating

the technical brilliance of its oil exploration team in the North


The platform was a technical and economic success, hailed in the trade

and technical press.

However, it became a PR disaster and lead to petrol sales in Shell’s

crucial German market being threatened. Brent Spar became a symbol of

Greenpeace’s and other green activists’ skill in putting their emotive,

if not always accurate, messages across and how they could harness the

concerns of consumers to put severe pressure on a large company. That

Greenpeace played fast and loose with the scientific data is neither

here nor there. It was seen to have won a famous victory.

Now Shell is reclaiming the initiative and there is a detectable sign

that the media is now more sympathetic than in the past, possibly

because of its collective embarrassment that it may have unquestionably

accepted the views of Greenpeace. A classic case of ’once bitten twice


This week’s announcement that it has awarded contracts to six companies

worth over pounds 1 million each to come up with proposals for the

platform’s disposal has continued the process. The options have been

detailed in most sectors of the media and artist’s impressions of the

various proposals have been printed in all the broadsheets.

Greenpeace has no counter to well-thought out and well-costed proposals

for the disposal. However, although the plans are imaginative they are

not too imaginative. There is nothing fanciful, nothing that captures

public attention. Fish farms, sea defences and jetties are all sound

suggestions, but surely the massive depth of engineering imagination

within the offshore industry which led to the creation of Brent Spar in

the first place could be tapped to come up with an

environmentally-friendly solution which would also be


Shell will eventually win the PR battle over Brent Spar, and it has

stressed that the option of deep sea disposal is still open; after all

that is still the best option according to the scientific community and

the one which still has the backing of the Government. But why don’t

they just give the thing - it is costing the pounds 20,000 a week to

keep it moored in a Norwegian fjord - to Richard Branson. He would come

up with an idea that would be whale-friendly, dolphin-friendly,

woolly-sweater-friendly and people-friendly.

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