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Offshore Oil And Gas: Pollution Control

Volume 474: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1986

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2.58 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what radioactive substances are given off in the process of separating gas from oil at North Sea oil rigs and pipeline terminals and what controls and monitoring systems are enforced to avoid danger to personnel and pollution of the environment.

My Lords, natural radioactive material, particularly scale and silt, has been found in pipework on offshore oil and gas installations and on treatment vessels. Where the pipework is not removed onshore for decontamination the work of removal of the scale or silt is carried out under the Ionising Radiation Regulations 1985, which require the work to be carried out under local rules, within controlled areas and under specialist supervision to ensure that there is no risk to personnel safety. As the radiation is of low specific activity there is virtually no risk external to the pipework or vessel, nor is there any risk of pollution of the environment.

My Lords, while I thank the Minister for his reply, I must confess that I am only partially grateful. Is he not aware that permission is given for oil platforms, and in particular the oil terminal at Flotta, to discharge radionuclides into the sea and, in the case of the oil terminal at Flotta, in unlimited amounts, and that these radionuclides contain a fair Proportion of a very nasty substance called polonium which when it was being experimented with at Harwell actually escaped out of the laboratory and started walking down the passage?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that the most stringent tests are carried out and that if the silt is mixed with water and, as a slurry, is discharged directly into the sea, it has to be in conformity with the authorisation under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister, particularly in relation to the last part of the answer he has just given, whether he will examine the Statement made in the national newspaper the Guardian that radioactive waste was deliberately increased by officials to see what sort of effect that increase would have on the British environment and the British people? I appreciate that it is unfair to expect the Minister to answer that supplementary question now. I should like to point out to Conservative noble Lords opposite that I think this matter is serious enough in present-day circumstances to warrant thorough investigation.

My Lords, the noble Lord has invited me to read the article in the Guardian to which he referred, and I shall certainly do so. That is as far as I can go at the moment.