Shell has apologised for the North Sea oil spill and for its own lack of transparency saying: "The fact is something has gone wrong here, so whatever risk assessment we made about the condition of these pipes has proven to be wrong."

It's not the most reassuring apology in the world; alongside the apology came the admission that the second leak could take weeks to fix, that the pipe that sprung the leak is more than 30 years old, and that if Shell's risk assessment, maintenance and inspection processes had been better, the accident wouldn't have happened in the first place.

The spill, in other words, seems to have been the result of systemic failures on Shell's part.

The company's abysmal track record on safety does little to dispel this suggestion. In 2009 and 2010, the Gannet Alpha platform (the one now leaking) had 10 leak incidents. In 2009, Shell's SEDCO platform (leased to Transocean) was involved in a near miss blow out that averted a catastrophe on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon only by chance.

This year (so far), Shell has seen "the death of a maintenance worker, a series of dangerous gas leaks, equipment collapsing off a platform into the sea and a 15,000-hour backlog of repairs".

Even as the accidents continue, with crude oil flowing into the North Sea and an investigation into the spill being announced, Shell is trying to convince regulators that it should be allowed to drill in one of the most ecologically sensitive and logistically difficult environments on the planet: the Arctic. And, closer to home, it has announced plans to drill in the deep waters off the south coast of New Zealand in the sub-Antarctic Great South Basin.

If "something has gone wrong" in the North Sea, which the UK government claims has the best regulatory regime in the world, what is to prevent "something" from going similarly wrong in the Alaskan Arctic or the isolation of the Great South Basin? And when that happens, how on Earth does Shell plan to clean it up?

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