Responding to an oil spill in the North Sea

Although our priority is to prevent oil spills and other releases, they can still happen

In October 2016, approximately 95 tonnes of oil and a quantity of water leaked from the Clair platform into the sea due to a technical issue with the system that separates the mixed production fluids of water, oil and gas.

We triggered our oil spill contingency plan and emergency response procedures, and stopped the oil reaching the sea within an hour of it being discovered.

We worked with relevant UK government agencies and the oil spill response co-operative, Oil Spill Response Limited, to assess the potential impact on the environment and to agree the best way to respond. In this case, it was by allowing the oil to disperse naturally at sea. Our computer modelling predicted that the prevailing currents and weather conditions would carry any oil away from land and that it would break up and disperse naturally in a few days. As a precaution, we kept other response options open, such as the use of dispersants and skimming equipment.

Although the likelihood of oil coming ashore was assessed to be very low, we also worked with the local authorities to carry out surveys on Shetland’s beaches to confirm baseline conditions and prepare for the extremely unlikely event that any shoreline clean-up might be needed.

We monitored the progress of the oil closely to check whether these other response strategies would be needed. Aerial surveillance and satellite imagery showed that, within five days, there was no visible evidence of oil in the sea. This indicated a rapid evaporation and natural dispersal, which was confirmed by continued monitoring over subsequent days.

Throughout our response we kept in contact with a variety of external interest groups such as the Shetland Islands Council, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and the Shetland Fishermen’s Association.

With this incident, as with any other, we will examine the outcomes of the incident investigation and apply any lessons learned.

We conduct emergency response exercises regularly and this really helped when it came to a real event in 2016. For example, we had done a lot of preparatory work on the importance of adapting our incident management team in a controlled way in an emergency. We put this into practice in our response in 2016. Having established relationships with external organizations helped too - it made communication considerably easier during the incident.
Tommy Clark, crisis continuity management and emergency response manager, BP North Sea

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