ABERDEEN, Scotland — Greenpeace, which pressured the oil giant Shell Oil Co. into scrapping plans to dump an old drilling platform at sea, admitted Tuesday that part of its campaign was in error.
While Shell enjoyed a bit of good publicity in a dispute that earlier spurred consumer protests across Europe, Greenpeace insisted that its goal of preventing sea burial of the platform Brent Spar was the right idea.
In a letter to Shell UK Chairman Chris Fay, Peter Melchett, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said the group had wrongly claimed 5,500 tons of oil remained aboard the platform. That would have been about 38,500 barrels, or about 1.6 million gallons.
In a news conference, Fay said the amount of oil aboard the Brent Spar was as little as 50 tons, or about 350 barrels--less than one-hundredth the amount Greenpeace initially claimed. He said any environmental impact from dumping it would be "minimal."
Fay said he respected Greenpeace for acknowledging its error and clearing up some of what Fay called misinformation in the Brent Spar case.
"Had we dumped . . . it's an awful word when you think about it--had we disposed of the Brent Spar, then perhaps that misinformation would have stayed forever."
The letter, released Tuesday, said Greenpeace had attempted to take a sample from one of the platform's storage tanks, but that it recently learned the equipment used had become stuck in a pipe. As a result, it took a sample only from the pipe and never got into the tank.
"I'm afraid that in writing to you . . . on 19 June, I said that our sampling showed a particular quantity of oil on the Brent Spar. That was wrong, and I apologize to you and your colleagues for this," said Melchett, who meets with Fay in London on Wednesday.
The dispute began in the spring, when Greenpeace activists boarded the 450-foot-tall Brent Spar to prevent it from being dumped.
The company then embarrassed the British government, which had strongly supported the dumping plan, by changing its mind amid consumer boycotts and a handful of attacks on Shell service stations in Europe, particularly in Germany.
Greenpeace said dumping the Brent Spar at sea would harm the environment. Shell said dumping the platform was the best option available.
The Brent Spar has since been towed to Norway and Shell is deciding what to do next.
Fay said he was personally angered by activists who believe they alone are concerned about the environment "and that those who work in business must have less worthy, short-term motives."