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Suspected oil spill revealed as MPs debate Offshore Oil Bill

Press Release Date: January 22, 2024



Daisy Brickhill | email: dbrickhill@oceana.org

Bird dying as result of oil spill.

The first oil spill of 2024 apparently occurred just days after the start of the year and only days be fore the vote on the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill. The likely spill, recorded by SkyTruth using satellite imagery on 9 January, spread across over 22 km2 of the North Sea, an area equal to 3,500 football fields. It highlights the severe risks to ocean wildlife of continuing to exploit oil reserves, says NGO Oceana UK, which convenes the new Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling.

Recorded using Cerulean, SkyTruth’s global monitoring system, the spill is a fraction of the size of disastrous spills such as the Braer oil catastrophe in 1993 or Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, but demonstrates the relentless chronic pollution caused by oil developments in UK seas, says Oceana UK. Just under 13,000 tonnes of oil were released into UK waters by the oil and gas industry in the five years between 2018-2023 alone, a joint report by NGOs Oceana and Uplift revealed last year.

“The Oil and Gas Bill is simply political posturing; it is a hook on which to hang the government’s spurious claims that decimating our ocean and lining the pockets of oil giants by digging up every last drop of fossil fuels is somehow a greener route to take.

Are we really going to stand aside while our seas fall victim to Big Oil? We can’t be distracted by this, we must focus on ending all new oil and gas developments in the North Sea and making a fair transition to renewable energy. It is the ocean that suffers the most when it comes to these destructive projects, yet protecting the UK’s beautiful and unique marine life can help mitigate the climate crisis as well as providing stable jobs for the future. It’s time to end this madness.”

Executive Director for Oceana UK, Hugo Tagholm

The Ocean Alliance Against Offshore Drilling – which is made up of over 40 NGOs, businesses and others, including Greenpeace UK, Surfers Against Sewage, Whale & Dolphin Conservation, Finisterre and Oceanographic magazine – is asking individuals to contact their MPs to urge them to oppose new oil and gas projects, based on the severe risks to ocean life in the UK.

The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill does nothing but send the wrong message – it is time wasting when we should be focused on avoiding a climate and ocean crisis, says Oceana UK. It requires the oil and gas regulator to hold annual licensing rounds for offshore oil and gas in the UK, but licensing rounds have been held annually for most of the past decade, and in any case the regulator already has the power to issue licences whenever it sees fit.

Notes for Editors

  • The oil spill has been identified using SkyTruth’s Cerulean, a global monitoring system for ocean oil pollution, designed to detect oil slicks in satellite imagery and identify nearby vessels and offshore oil infrastructure that could be the source of those slicks. The model has identified the slick and Oceana has analysed the satellite imagery to further validate the incident. For example, the satellite image clearly shows a distinctly different texture of sea surface to the surrounding sea consistent with other validated slicks; the slick area has moved away from the most likely source in a pattern consistent with the sea’s currents at the time; and the vessel has a history of other identified slicks in the same area over the last 12 months.
  • SkyTruth Cerulean identifies oil slicks using an AI model trained on a dataset of 600 expert labelled oil slicks.
  • SkyTruth Cerulean identifies possible sources of each slick using temporal closeness, area of overlap and collinearity. SkyTruth Cerulean identified the likely source as the following vessel:
    • MMSI / SSVID: 235000082
    • Vessel type: other_not_fishing
    • Vessel name: PIPER
    • Vessel Flag : United Kingdom
  • SkyTruth has made every attempt to ensure the completeness, accuracy and reliability of the information provided on Cerulean. However, due to the nature and inherent limitations in source materials for information provided, SkyTruth qualifies all designations of vessels, structures, and oil slicks or other pollution events, regardless of how they are identified, as “apparent,” rather than certain. And accordingly, the information is provided “as is” without warranty of any kind.
  • Read the In Deep Water report, the first comprehensive review of how the oil and gas industry is damaging UK seas.