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Brent decommissioning plans set to bypass islands

ENERGY giant Shell has lodged its proposals to decommission the remainder of the Brent oil field with the UK government.

The plans – to be subject to a 60-day consultation period – seem almost certain to bypass Shetland, with the most lucrative work in dismantling the structures taking place offshore.

Shell had previously obtained consent to decommission the Brent Delta platform and, to the concern of environmentalists, leave the legs of the structure in the sea.

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Now it is seeking consent to remove the upper sections of the Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo platforms, where production ceased back in 2014. It wants to leave parts of the structures, including the concrete and steel feet of the 30,000-tonne Alpha platform, in the sea.

The Brent field and installations gave their name to the Brent crude which became a benchmark for oil in the North Sea.

Development committee chairman Alastair Cooper.

Located 115 miles north-east of Shetland, the field has produced around three billion barrels of oil since 1976, providing almost a tenth of UK production.

Brent decommissioning asset manager Duncan Manning said: “After an extensive and in-depth study period, the submission of Shell’s Brent decommissioning programme marks another important milestone in the history of the Brent oil and gas field.

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“Shell has undertaken thorough analysis, extensive scientific research and detailed consultation with over 180 stakeholder organisations over the past ten years.”

Manning said he believed the recommendations were “safe, technically achievable, environmentally sound and financially responsible”.

But WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the environmental group would be examining Shell’s plans closely.

“The rules already allow for companies to seek permission to leave some material behind – such as the massive concrete legs – where moving it would pose an unacceptable risk to staff or the environment,” he said.

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“We accept this principle. If the oil within the cells and some of the drill cuttings occur above limits that internationally agreed standards recommend they should be removed in order to prevent damage to the environment.” 

Banks said the main thing preventing that from being done was cost, and Shell “should do the right thing and remove these potentially polluting materials”.

“If done right, it could open the door for this country to lead a new multi-billion pound, global decommissioning industry that could create thousands of jobs as we continue our transition away from fossil fuels,” he added.

LPA chief executive Sandra Laurenson.

For many years, Lerwick Port Authority has recognised the importance of attracting decommissioning work, but in this instance its chief executive Sandra Laurenson said she expected the contracts to go elsewhere.

She said a deal for decommissioning the Brent Delta platform involving Swiss-based group Allseas and its single lift vessel Pioneering Spirit had previously been struck.

That involved the most lucrative work taking place offshore, and material being taken to the Able Yard in Hartlepool. Laurenson said she wouldn’t be surprised if subsequent work was handled in a similar way.

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“As far as we can tell from the methodology they’re just going to do the same as they’ve done with Brent Delta, so we’re not really expecting anything to come our way – but if we did it would be a bonus.”

Onshore yards tend to command only around two per cent of the share of decommissioning work, though even that could be a substantial boon for the islands.

SIC development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said he felt the islands were capable of handling large decommissioning projects.

He said the local industry had “wrought long and hard to create the right environment”, but the key was “aligning ourselves with the right partner”.

If a big development was to come to Shetland, it could enable the islands to attract funding to deepen the water at Lerwick’s Greenhead Base and offer a quay with depth in excess of 20 metres.

“In that sort of circumstances they’d be able to come in with heavy lift things – that’s where Norway scores,” Cooper said.

“We have the skills base to do it. We have to go for it as a community, where we will look after the environmental side rather than [have it] go somewhere else that might not pay the same attention to it.”

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