Royal Dutch Shell estimates that a leak from an offshore oil rig stationed off Scotland’s eastern coast spilled 54,600 gallons of oil into the North Sea. Shell reported the leak on Friday, although it’s unknown when the spill began.
The company admitted that the spill was significant and said that it cared about the environment and regretted the spill had happened.
The leak originated from the Gannet Alpha oil rig, located 112 miles (180 kilometers) east of the city of Aberdeen. The rig is operated by Shell and co-owned by Shell and Esso, a subsidiary of the U.S. oil firm Exxon Mobil (AP).
Although it pales in comparison to the 206 million gallons of crude oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after the catastrophic BP oil spill, the British government said the leak was substantial for the U.K.’s continental shelf. Although the North Sea is small in comparison to other oceans, it contains a highly sensitive ecosystem that is teeming with life.
According to the Wildlife Trusts’ North Sea Project, the North Sea supports over 230 species of fish, an exciting variety of marine mammals and thousands of seabirds. The diversity of life here results from the constant mixing of waters within the shallow regions. This mixing stirs up a rich supply of nutrients to nourish the abundant sea life in the North Sea’s shallow waters.
Unfortunately, the North Sea is also one of the world’s busiest seas and is home to a range of human activity which could potentially threaten these precious marine species. Currently, only 2 percent of the English North Sea is considered as ‘partially’ protected and only 0.009 percent ‘fully protected’, leaving many important, rare and threatened habitats vulnerable to harm.
Both the government and Shell maintain that the ocean waves would disperse the oil sheen and the spill is not expected to reach the shore (BBC). Of course, the Gulf oil spill has proven that threats to marine life persist even when oil is no longer visible on the surface.
The Scottish government said it was working with Shell to monitor the spill and warn local fishing boats about contaminated areas.
Image Credit: Flickr – conner395