New oil spill discovered in North Sea as MPs debate Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill

New oil spill in the North Sea highlights the risk oil and gas projects pose to ocean wildlife

Photo credit - Nitesh Jain-Unsplash

The first oil spill of 2024 apparently occurred just days after the start of the year and only days before the vote on the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill.

The 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.

The location of the likely spill

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.

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.

Executive Director for Oceana UK, Hugo Tagholm, said:

“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.”

Photo credit - Jesús Renedo

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 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.

Footage credit: Greenpeace UK & Alex Westover