Removing Oil Rigs from the North Sea – is Europe up for the Challenge?

Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson dive Platform A376 during a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, home to the oldest and most successful Rigs 2 Reefs programs in the world. Photo Courtesy of James Wiseman
Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson dive Platform A376 during a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico, home to the oldest and most successful Rigs 2 Reefs programs in the world. Photo Courtesy of James Wiseman

The 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.

Offshore Oil and Gas Fields under Exploitation in the North Sea, OSPAR’s Quality Status Report, 2010 (http://qsr2010.ospar.org/en/ch07_01.html)

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 —> Read More

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