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Here the intransigence of environmentalists - backed by many governments, including Britain - could lead to a free-for-all on the high seas.
They have broken faith with the bargains struck when whaling was halted.
An expert comparison of the merits of sinking the rigs and (as Greenpeace and most countries at the conference want) of bringing them ashore for dismantling shows that the arguments are by no means one-sided.
Both stances will win them greenie points for environmental and political correctness.
Greenpeace described the two countries' positions as "folly" and "dramatically at odds with international public opinion", while Tim Yeo, now environment spokesman for the party that tried to dump Brent Spar, accused ministers of "hypocrisy on a breathtaking scale".
Other governments, at the London meeting of the Oslo and Paris Conventions on sea dumping, joined in the outcry. No one is suggesting that all the rigs should be dumped at sea, or even definitely proposing this for any of them.
The only strong environmentalist argument is one of principle - that it is wrong to use the seas needlessly for waste.
There has indeed been, and is still, a scandalous amount of pollution. More than three-quarters of all pollution flows into the seas from the land.
Greenpeace has campaigned about this wider and much greater problem, but has never made as much fuss about it as over the Brent Spar.