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Decommissioning of oil and gas structures: call for review?

The BBC recently highlighted an article in the Times by Sir Ed Davey and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt calling for a review of decommissioning rules (2) on the basis that full decommissioning might not be the best option. We agree.


OSPAR 98/3 established stringent requirements for the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure in the North East Atlantic region. This followed on from the case of the ‘Brent Spar’ in which Greenpeace contested Shell UK’s plans for deep sea disposal of a North Sea oil storage and tanker loading buoy.

Under OSPAR 98/3 the disposal of disused offshore installations at sea is prohibited, with very limited exceptions. This effectively requires full removal of structures on or above the seabed, making decommissioning very expensive. Oil & Gas UK has estimated the cost of decommissioning UK assets in the North Sea to be around £41-46 billion (1).

It is well known that structures in the marine environment can act as artificial reefs providing valuable ecosystem services. In other parts of the world, oil and gas decommissioning specifically seeks to leave elements of infrastructure on and above the seabed because of the ecological and socio-economic benefits.

The BBC recently highlighted an article in the Times by Sir Ed Davey and environmentalist Jonathon Porritt calling for a review of decommissioning rules (2) on the basis that full decommissioning might not be the best environmental option and that money saved on decommissioning costs could be targeted towards restoration of marine habitats.

We would support such a review.

Work we have done on the costs and benefits of oil and gas decommissioning shows that there can be significant environmental benefits from leaving some structures in situ, particularly when taking account of greenhouse gas emissions associated with decommissioning activity.

In such circumstances less decommissioning not only delivers net environmental benefit but would also allow a proportion of the cost savings to be reinvested in restoring the marine environment.

Greater application of net environmental benefit analysis (NEBA), particularly when used in conjunction with ecosystem services frameworks, would greatly assist in identifying those situations where sustainable development is best achieved by partial removal of structures.

by Stephen Hull, Director


References

(1) Oil and Gas UK 2015 Activity Survey
(2) BBC News

Image provided by Lee181169 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons