LETTERS: N. Sea decommissioning: the £50-billion (white) elephant in the room

Severed legs of Shell's Brent Delta platform
Severed legs of Shell’s Brent Delta platform


Recent media coverage prompts me once again to question the logic in widespread investment across UK harbours for onshore decommissioning business.

I just can’t see how this makes sense. Where is the business case that supports all this investment?

In terms of jobs, the GMB recently produced a report ‘Status Capacity and Capability of North Decommissioning Facilities’. The report contained little factual data relating to onshore jobs; interestingly it did provide a metric that the 25,000 tonne Murchison topsides will take 45 people to downsize and process – that is 555 tonnes per man.

The report also indicated that the decommissioned materials forecast is approximately 69,000 tonne/year. A simple analysis of those two numbers leads to a figure of 124 jobs/year. Spread that direct work and the associated multiplier effect over the UK ports vying for decommissioning business and come up with a business case?

From a country perspective, I also struggle with the overall decommissioning business case. Over the last two years I’ve been to see the Scottish Government, met numerous members of parliament, written to and met many decommissioning stakeholder organisations. I have presented my case of the misuse of taxpayers’ money being used to unnecessarily remove offshore architecture.

When compared with the benefits from using taxpayers’ money to fund green energy projects, I’ve asked why removal is best for the country from an economic, social and environmental standpoint and been unable to obtain reasoned answers.

The Scottish Government state it is a Westminster (BEIS) responsibility – but shouldn’t they be doing much more to influence policy? BEIS tell me that they will follow OSPAR – well intentioned legislation leading the UK and Scotland to a very poor outcome and BEIS will not challenge it? I am also frequently told that the Greens will never buy it – tell that to the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Jonathon Porritt’s Forum for the Future.

When I discuss my thoughts on decommissioning with informed industry workers I consistently obtain very positive feedback and encouragement but I can’t get a big boy to take notice. There is a huge missed opportunity here and I’m left contemplating what more can I do.

Who are the big boys? Well it must be the OGA Decommissioning Task Force whose goal is ‘to minimse the cost of decommissioning in an appropriate manner with a focus on delivering what would otherwise not be delivered by industry’. What better way to minimise costs than not remove – billions of taxpayers’ money saved at a stroke. The OGA’s role is also to maximise economic recovery. Can the OGA Task Force explain to the taxpayer how the current strategy is maximizing economic recovery for the nation?

I also wonder if the expert panel looking into tax reform will ask the fundamental question – what is the basis for removal and why is it being undertaken?

I can’t help thinking that I am exposing an inconvenient truth. Too many organisations have too much at stake here to contemplate the obvious.

Prof Tom Baxter
Prof Tom Baxter

Prof. TOM BAXTER is Senior Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Aberdeen University. 

He is also a Fellow of the IChemE and previously worked in the North Sea oil and gas industry as an Operations Engineer and Development engineer with a major British oil exploration company.


See also:

Instead of subsidising N. Sea decommissioning, let’s use taxpayers’ billions in renewables


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