Oil platforms North Sea

August 25, 2022
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Offshore Oil and Gas Fields under Exploitation in the North SeaThe standards and rules for decommissioning offshore oil rigs are firmly established in the North Sea. When an oil platform is no longer economically viable, it must be removed. There is to be no dumping and abandoning these structures at sea. Save for substructures heavier than 10, 000 tons, the bottom (so-called ‘footings’) of these structures may be left in place. Why is this significant? The majority of these installations were never designed to be removed and the required decommissioning is of a scale and complexity not yet witnessed before in the world of offshore oil and gas. The imminent decommissioning of over 500 platforms in the next few decades presents a daunting challenge to Europe. How to reverse-engineer the removal of hundreds of steel structures, some of which rival the size of the Eiffel tower and are located in deep and turbulent waters, while maintaining safe and cost effective strategies. Another challenge is that unlike the US, northern Europe’s shared body of water, the North Sea, spans the exclusive economic zone of 7 countries and thus forces an international standard that all must agree on. This ‘international standard’ will become a crucial factor in determining the success or failure of all future decommissioning projects in the North Sea.

Image courtesy of Joop Coolen, From his Biodiversity and multifunctional use of old production platforms and new offshore wind farms project, for more information please visit: I had the opportunity to engage in and discuss these issues when my research partner, Amber Jackson, and I traveled to meet with LINSI (The Living North Sea Initiative) in Amsterdam, and presented at DOSS (a conference on the decommissioning of Offshore Subsea Structures) in Glasgow, Scotland. Hundreds of North Sea platforms face removal, under often dangerous and risky conditions, and coupled with mounting costs of varying uncertainty, means that total compliance under OSPAR (named because of the original Oslo-Paris conventions for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) may not be the best answer. We encountered these themes over and over again during our time in Europe. OSPAR is the primary mechanism governing the North Sea region, by which fifteen Governments of the western coasts of Europe, together with the European Union, cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. The decommissioning of oil and gas assets is primarily governed by the Petroleum Act which implemented OSPAR Decision 98/3. The act requires licensees to pay for offshore installations to be properly decommissioned; in most cases it effectively mandates complete removal from the seabed. In other words, the potential to allow platforms to be relocated or left in place to function as artificial reefs is slim, and in light of historical events that lead to public outcry, such as 1995’s Brent Spar decommissioning and the BP Oil Spill of 2010, unlikely (Jørgensen, Dolly).

So why not develop a Rig to Reef program in the North Sea? As demonstrated in other areas of the world, Rigs to Reefs offers a viable, and perhaps more environmentally and economically feasible option. The water in the North Sea is cold, murky and incredibly nutrient rich, and home to a wide variety of commercially viable marine life. The bottom is littered with one of the highest concentration of wrecked ships in the world, a grim reminder of the violent power of this icy water body. When paired with the vast array of hard substrate provided by the platforms- these nutrient rich waters have fostered an abundance of marine growth similar to what we have found on California’s platforms (Callahan, E.). They may be home to more than over 100 different marine species, including some cold water coral species such as Lophelia pertusa, one of six coral species known to form extensive cold-water reefs, and unlike most warm-water corals, it lacks symbiotic algae and thus does not require light.

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Source: voices.nationalgeographic.com
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