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Environmentalists demand more answers from Shell after Scotland oil spill

Although Shell has apologized for the North Sea spill, which has yet to be contained, the oil company's belated release of information is still drawing criticism from environmentalists.

By Bryan KayCorrespondent / August 19, 2011

The Royal Dutch Shell platform Gannett Alpha is seen in the North Sea in a 2009 file photograph. Royal Dutch Shell's ruptured North Sea pipeline has caused a 'substantial' spill, with oil still leaking into the sea.

Royal Dutch Shell/Reuters

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Edinburgh, Scotland

Environmental groups are demanding "a full and open" investigation into the cause of Scotland's worst oil spill in a decade as cleanup efforts to stave off an environmental disaster continue.

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More than 200 tons of oil have spewed from a Shell-operated pipeline connecting an oil well to the Gannett Alpha platform in the North Sea, 112 miles east of Aberdeen in northeastern Scotland.

The transparency calls came after the Anglo-Dutch company was accused of shrouding the leak in secrecy. It took two days from the time the spill was detected for information about it to be made public. Shell responded with a detailed apology on Wednesday.

Scotland's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Director Stuart Housden, whose group was angered by its exclusion from the initial response to the spill, endorsed Shell's apology but said that a forthcoming inquiry needed to be "open and transparent."

A full investigation into the leak by government health and safety specialists will produce a report to send to the Crown Office, and prosecutors will decide whether to proceed with court action. Any guilty parties must be made to pay, Mr. Housden says.

"We need to know what happened," he says, "Why and if those responsible will be held accountable."

World Wildlife Fund Scotland was similarly unimpressed with the slow release of information. Director Richard Dixon says the public will make up its own mind on the spill, given the "grudging" nature of what Shell made public.

Threat of more leaks looms

The groups' demands for disclosure came as it was revealed that 600 tons of oil remained in the faulty system and the government expressed concern that more oil could be released if work to shut off a leaking valve, planned for today, went awry.

Helicopters armed with detergent and vessels equipped with booms are on standby should more leaks occur. So far, work to place a concrete blanket over a section of depressurized pipeline in order to push it back into the seabed has been successful, Shell said. Pushing it into the seabed would stabilize the pipe, which rose up about four feet in some sections.

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