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Police Scotland offered oil rig to train for protest-plagued North Sea

Scotland (26/2 – 36.36). Police Scotland has been offered use of an idle oil rig in order to train against a recent wave of protests in the North Sea.

Activists have staged a series of demonstrations offshore over the last two years, notably against oil giants BP and Shell. One 12-day standoff raised serious safety concerns as activists boarded a rig destined for a BP oilfield, costing the taxpayer £140,000 for the Police response.

The International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) has now offered an idle oil rig to Police Scotland to help train for such events. The North Sea’s Emergency Preparedness Offshore Liaison (EPOL) group, a committee chaired by Police Scotland, with participants from Oil and Gas UK, HSE, energy firms and other groups, revealed the details.

IADC regional head Stuart Clow said a member company had offered a warm stack rig to work with Police “for exercises and drills relating to protestors”. The company and rig hasn’t been revealed but it was offered while the vessel was waiting to go out on contract with an operator.

Mr Clow told Energy Voice that, due to Covid, the training hasn’t been carried out, however the plans are still on the table. Once restrictions ease up the IADC will work with its members to see if another rig is available, he said.

In June 2019, Greenpeace occupied the Transocean-owned Paul B Loyd Jr rig in a standoff lasting 12 days, aimed at preventing it from reaching the BP-operated Vorlich field. The move, which led to 14 arrests, was blasted as “inherently dangerous” by Transocean lawyer Jonathan Barne who argued Greenpeace did not know “the  layout or activity of the rig”.

Greenpeace was ultimately fined £80,000 but executive director John Sauven avoided the two-year jail sentence prosecutors were pushing for. Later that year, the group staged “peaceful protests” at the Shell Brent field against the operator’s plans to leave some of the platform legs, and their oil-sediment contents, in the sea to degrade over centuries.

Activists scaled the legs of the Brent Bravo, which Shell argued could create serious safety risks. Similar cases have arisen in Denmark and Norway.

In each instance Greenpeace argued its right to peacefully protest and that its activists were trained for the risks. However, Shell later won a court order to prevent protestors from going within 500 metres of its offshore installations.

Greenpeace returned to the Brent field in 2020, outside the 500metre safety zone, on its environmental ship Esperanza. Offering an oil rig to train police officers would help keep the rig “warm stacked” and ready to move on to the next job.

When a rig is out of work, it may need to be “cold stacked”, a very expensive shutdown process, with some firms choosing never to reactivate the vessel due to the cost involved.

Police Scotland chief inspector Neil Anderson, from the Operational Support Division, said: “The Energy Liaison Unit regularly run routine training exercises throughout the year in conjunction with the oil and gas industry so they are prepared and ready to respond to any potential incidents.”