Radioactive waste from Shell oil rigs could damage environment, groups warn. Enormous concrete storage units that Shell wants to abandon in the North Sea contain radioactive waste which campaigners fear will eventually leach into the surrounding water, The Independent has learned. European authorities are considering Shell’s application for an exemption to legislation requiring companies to return the marine environment to its natural state after extraction operations. Shell wants to leave 64 concrete storage cells, which were part of offshore drilling rigs, on the seabed. Each is the size of seven Olympic swimming pools, and several still contain toxic oil and contaminated sediment. “Part of the problem is that some of the materials are radioactive,” said Robert Armour, a non-executive director at the Oil and Gas Authority. “They have been brought up from deep underground and the concrete they are encased in is brittle. Environmental groups say Shell has downplayed the risk posed by the radioactive material in the tanks. Though Shell mentioned the Norm waste in its decommissioning proposal to the UK government in 2017 – it does not mention the radioactive material in the formal documents that the UK has submitted to the commission that oversees the enforcement of the relevant European legislation. Greenpeace scientists are also critical of the methods Shell has used to estimate radioactivity in the concrete tanks, saying estimates were made using a low number of samples. Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “The oceans are increasingly fragile and threatened by waste, over-exploitation and climate change. They are nobody’s dustbin. “The waste we try to throw there won’t conveniently stay put, and has historically found ways of returning to haunt us sooner or later. This mixture of crude oil, drilling waste and radioactive material is Shell’s mess. “No one is completely certain what’s down there, either in terms of chemical contamination or radioactivity, and so we don’t know how much of a risk it poses to the environment of the North Sea. But we do know that Shell made a lot of money creating the mess, and they can afford to spend a little cleaning it up.” Under UK regulations, concentrated Norm waste has to be handled with protective equipment and disposed of in specialised facilities. A government report from 2014 estimated that the annual volume of Norm waste sent for specialist treatment in the UK was 300 tonnes, with half of that total coming from the offshore oil and gas industry.
Independent 10th March 2019 read more »