Approximately 164,000 barrels of oil spilled into UK waters between 2017 and 2022, equivalent to 22,326 tonnes, a Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The request was made by Uplift to the Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED).

The oil and gas companies’ spillages were far more than the government’s safety benchmarks, beyond safe levels for marine life. In comparison, the Poole harbour incident in Dorset, south-west England, resulted in spillage of 200 barrels of reservoir fluid into the water column. The 5-year total spillage by oil companies is more than 800 times the Poole spill. 

Dana, Shell, and Repsol Sinopec involved in oil spills

While companies are allowed to release some oil as a by-product of routine activities, the discharge must remain within permitted levels. Regulations allow for a maximum of 30 parts per million of oil in water. Shell and BP both released over 2,300 tonnes of oil-laced water into the seas. 

The top five spillers were Dana, Repsol Sinopec, CNR, Shell and Apache, with each of these spilling at least half of their spilled oil beyond the limits of the permit. Analysis by Uplift suggested that 58% of all measured releases were allowed as per government permits, though 42% were done in the breach of regulations. 

The regulator, OPRED, gave out 1,900 permits each day between 2017-22, with 9000 tonnes of oil falling outside the permitted limit. Oil and gas trade body Offshore Energies UK told the BBC “Our latest data, covering 2022, published in our environment report shows that oil mass in produced water fell by 10%.”

Satellite images of UK waters from 2020-2022, obtained by an NGO SkyTruth, show oil slicks as long as 10km and one cumulative slick extending to an area of 91sq km. Hugo Tagholm, the director of ocean conservation campaign group Oceana told BBC News that the oil spills threaten the breeding and feeding patterns of many species in Marine Protected Areas.