LONDON, April 27 (By Alex Lawler) - A North Sea oil pipeline which handles 40 percent of the UK's production may have to be shut down briefly later this year due to the discovery of an unexploded German mine from World War Two.
The mine was found on March 22 in about 300 feet (91 metres) of water during a routine survey of the Forties pipeline, the line's operator BP Plc said on Wednesday.
"There is no immediate risk to the pipeline and therefore operations are continuing as normal," BP said. "As a precaution, a guard vessel has been stationed in the area to ensure fishing and other vessels are kept clear."
World War Two explosives have been found in the North Sea before. The UK's Royal Navy destroyed two WW2 bombs there in 2009.
The mine is lying adjacent to the Forties pipeline about 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the coast of Peterhead, Scotland.
BP said it was working on a plan to remove the 3 1/2-metre- long mine, which might mean the 520,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) pipeline will have to be briefly closed later in the year.
"Removal and disposal of the ordnance may require a system shutdown for a few days," a BP spokesman said. "Shippers will continue to be notified in advance."
Oil from Forties is important for global markets as it usually sets the value of the Brent crude benchmark. Brent oil futures LCOc1 are trading above $124 a barrel and close to its highest since 2008.
The Forties pipeline is due to transport 520,000 bpd of oil in May, according to the loading schedule. Overall UK oil output is about 1.3 million bpd.
In 1997, a German wartime bomb was found near a North Sea pipeline operated by Enterprise Oil, now part of Royal Dutch Shell Plc. Enterprise was criticised for not immediately telling the public or the press about the bomb.
BP on Wednesday reported a 2-percent drop in first-quarter profit reflecting the lingering effects of last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
(Editing by Jason Neely)
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