Environmentalists demand reforms to avoid repeat of Braer oil spill

Environmentalists are calling for measures to be taken to ensure there is no repeat of the Braer tanker oil spill.

On the 20th anniversary of the incident, which saw 84,700 tonnes of crude oil spill into the sea off Shetland, WWF Scotland has drawn up a six-point plan to avoid future accidents.

The Braer was travelling from Norway to Canada in January 1993 when it ran aground on rocks at the south end of Shetland.

Only the stormy weather, which dispersed the oil around the North Sea, saved the islands from a major environmental disaster, but thousands of birds still perished and other marine wildlife, such as shellfish, was affected.

Only 1% of the total volume reached on the island's coastline and monitoring suggested the impact on the environment and ecology was "largely minimal".

WWF Scotland has called for government ministers to avoid deep-water drilling in dangerous areas, end subsidies and tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and ban companies with poor pollution records from Scottish waters.

The other measures on its list are finding a permanent solution to emergency towing vessel cover around the coast of Scotland and telling exploration companies to avoid sensitive areas, such as the Arctic.

Lang Banks, of WWF Scotland, said: "The Braer disaster was most definitely an extremely close shave in environmental terms. Had it not been for the weather, the spill would have caused much more widespread environmental and economic damage, but we cannot rely on the weather to get us off the hook next time.

"As it was, thousands of birds are still estimated to have perished and marine wildlife, such as shellfish, finfish and marine mammals, were also badly affected. Add to that the thousands of pounds lost by fisheries and salmon farms as a result of oil contamination and it's easy to see why it could have been much, much worse."

Earlier this week, First Minister Alex Salmond committed to working with the industry to ensure oil and gas remains a "vital" part of energy production.

The coming year could see increased capital investment in the industry, which grew from £8.5bn in 2011 to a predicted £11.5bn in 2012.

"With 24 billion barrels of oil still to be recovered with a wholesale value of #1.5 trillion, the North Sea oil and gas sector has a bright future," he said.

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said today: "Twenty years ago Braer was a wake-up that everything was not right when it came to safeguarding our waters and it is vital that the UK Government never allows complacency to creep in due to the passage of time, because even today oil leaks are still happening.

"Thankfully the Shetland environment has recovered and such major incidents are very rare.

"Safety - both for the marine environment and those who work offshore - must be a priority."

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