Safety slips story poses danger for Shell

SAFETY in the oil industry is such a high priority that whenever someone makes an allegation that things ain’t right in a particular part of the world, or with a particular company, then everyone from the lowliest Slug up pauses to take a look.

That’s what happened late last week when a friend (yes, The Slug has one) drew your humble scribbler’s attention to a report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on suspected safety problems at Shell’s North Sea oil platforms.

Because the report was carried in another media outlet, and because the events are unfolding on the other side of the world, and because no one yet really knows whether the allegation is true or false, great care must be taken.

But since anyone interested can click onto the Guardian’s website, www.guardian.co.uk, and search a few key words, then The Slug reckons he’s in the clear in just letting other people in the oil game know what’s going on.

For anyone interested, the key words to find the report are “brent bravo”, enter those in the search field and you’ll go straight to a 1200-word story headlined Shell accused over oil rig safety.

According to the story, based it seems almost entirely on an interview with a consultant who once worked for Shell, the big oil company has been “plunged into a major safety scandal”.

No points for guessing that this is the last thing Shell wants after only just extricating itself from the problems with over-booked oil and gas reserves that claimed a number of very senior scalps in the head office.

The chap the Guardian spoke with, Bill Campbell, alleges that some documents relating to safety have been falsified.

Shell denies the allegation, with a spokesman saying it is aware of the claims, had investigated them, and did not agree with them. The spokesman added that a $US1 billion ($A1.37 billion) improvement program had been undertaken to fix gas leaks.

So far, so good. What we have is a man making an allegation, and the company denying it, which is good meaty stuff that appears to now put pressure on the newspaper concerned to go a step further and see if it can find someone in government to pick up the issue.

For Shell, this is where the problem might really start because until that happens, it’s very much one man’s allegation, and one newspaper’s story.

Unfortunately for Shell, it might not stay that way, for several reasons. The Guardian is not your usual newspaper, it’s a left-of-centre terrier with a reputation going back decades for very successful attacks on business.

It is also a newspaper that enjoys strong union support (because of its left-wing tendencies), and is well read among the ruling class of a left-wing Britain.

The Slug has never suggested that anyone feel sorry for big oil, especially very big oil, such as Shell, because companies that make around $2 billion of profit a month hardly needed defending. They can do that themselves.

But if the Guardian’s claims hold water, and if someone in Shell has been falsifying safety records, then it could be enough to shake even more chaps out of their offices on London’s Southbank.

As far as The Slug is concerned, the over-booking issue was a storm in a teacup and all to do with the timing of when oil in the ground switches from being a geological curiosity to a bankable asset. A real bean counter’s picnic.

Safety is completely different, as everyone in oil knows.

Fingers crossed for those in charge at Shell that it can quickly hose down the Guardian and hope that the unions and the British Government stay out of the game because, if they don’t, this is an issue which could keep Shell on the back foot for some time.

And now, you might reasonable ask, who in Australia would care about that, to which The Slug gives a two-word answer “Woodside Petroleum”, which is always keen to see its major shareholder, and potential acquirer, keep well, and truly, on the back foot.

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