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Shell Oil Still Wrestles With Problem: What to Do With Old, Rusty Oil Rig?

Remember Brent Spar? It's an oil storage facility Shell Oil wanted to dispose of by sinking it in the North Sea off Scotland. Its plans were blocked last year when Greenpeace, the environmental group, accused Shell of using the sea as a "trash can" to get rid of unwanted junk.

Brent Spar is huge: 14,500 tons, 141 meters high, longer than a football field. Like an iceberg, its bulk lies beneath the water surface, where it's rusting.

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Today Brent Spar is moored in the Norwegian waters of Erfjord. Shell still faces the same question: What to do with it?

Sinking Brent Spar would cost an estimated $16 million. Disposing of it on dry land could cost $80 million.

Shell reversed its plan after a sensational confrontation with Greenpeace. In a headline-grabbing operation last spring, a team of Alpine climbers from Greenpeace scaled the Spar and set up camp, claiming the tank contained 100 tons of toxic sludge and 5,000 tons of oil. Later, Greenpeace admitted its data were flawed: The spar contained only 10 tons of oil.

Several days ago, scientists commissioned by the British government reported sinking the spar would have minimal impact on the environment. "But," the report added, "continued disposals with small individual impact might give rise to a large overall impact."

There are over 400 off-shore oil-related structures in the North Sea. Fifty must be disposed of in the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Shell is studying its options. The company expects to have a solution by year's end.

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