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News Extra: Shell unveils Brent Delta decommissioning plans

02 March 2015

In early February, Shell unveiled the first phase of its plans to decommission the Brent Delta platform, the first stage in the progressive closure of a North Sea field that has supplied the UK with 10% of its total oil and gas and generated more than £20bn of tax revenue for the UK since production began in 1976.

Shell's Brent Delta platform - Image: Cyberhawk
Shell's Brent Delta platform - Image: Cyberhawk

As the joint-owners and operators of the Brent Field, Shell and Esso are required to submit a decommissioning programme to the UK Government’s Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) for approval before work can commence. A 30-day consultation period will run until mid-March.

The decommissioning programme for Brent Delta - one of four installations located in the field - recommends that the 23,500 tonne topside of the platform is removed in one piece by a newly-built heavy-lift dedicated vessel that arrived in Rotterdam in January. The giant catamaran Pieter Schelte, owned and operted by Allseas, will use a single lift technique designed to substantially reduce the risk, cost and environmental impact of the operation.

Work is underway to strengthen the topside in anticipation of the lift, which will be one of the heaviest the North Sea has ever seen.  The topside will then be taken to Able UK, a specialised decommissioning company in Teesside, where more than 97% of the material will be reused or recycled.
Alistair Hope, Brent Decommissioning Project Director, Shell, said: “The Brent field has been a prolific national asset for many years, creating and sustaining thousands of jobs and contributing billions of pounds to the UK government. The engineering and planning skills which led to the discovery and subsequent successful production of oil and gas over four decades are essential during decommissioning, which is the natural next stage of the field’s life. We hope many people will play an active part in the consultation.” 

A second decommissioning programme for the remaining infrastructure in the Brent field, including Brent Delta’s legs, three other sets of topsides and legs, 140 wells and 28 pipelines, will be submitted when Shell is confident the proposals are safe, technically achievable, environmentally sound and financially responsible. It will be subject to a separate consultation.
Brent Delta stopped production in 2011 and Brent Alpha and Bravo ceased in November 2014. Production from the field continues into 2015 through Brent Charlie but is expected to stop there within the next few years.

In the Brent Field, over 140 wells have been drilled with each approximately 2km long. All of the wells on Brent Delta have been sealed, and work is ongoing to seal those on the other platforms in the field as they stop operating.
Shell estimates the decommissioning of Brent will run for more than 10 years and require around 1,000 engineers and technicians working offshore, as well as many more people onshore.

In an article in the Guardian, Shell UK chairman Erik Bonino said the oil major has learned from the fallout from its attempt two decades back to decommission Brent Spar, a redundant oil storage installation used on the field.

The group’s government-supported plans to sink the spar in deep water in the Atlantic had to be abandoned because Shell failed to engage sufficiently with others and win public acceptance, he said.

“This time, we are doing things differently. In preparation for decommissioning the Brent platforms, we have spoken with more than 180 organisations including the Scottish Fishermen’s Association and the Marine Conservation Society as well as environmental non-governmental organisations and scientific and academic institutions. We have made changes to our proposals as a result of their feedback.

“After considering other potential uses – for example, using the fields to store captured carbon dioxide – we concluded that decommissioning was the only viable option.”

Despite recent oil price fluctuations, Bonino expects output from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) to hold up and predicts it to supply half the UK’s expected oil and gas demand in 2020.
He said an important factor in continued investment in the North Sea and west of Shetland is the UK government’s pledge to offset decommissioning costs with tax relief, which in the case of Brent will be around 70%.

“As one of the first major fields to be decommissioned,” Brent gives British companies and their suppliers an opportunity to develop new specialist skills and gain invaluable expertise, just as they did back in the 1970s when UK offshore production started. This knowledge and experience will help improve and advance future decommissioning projects, not just in the North Sea, but worldwide,” Bonino concluded.

According to Oil & Gas UK’s 2013 Economic Report, almost all the 470 offshore installations in the UK Continental Shelf will need to be decommissioned over the next thirty years, requiring expenditure of between £35bn and £50bn, and the development of a special industry sub-sector with dedicated engineers, vessels and equipment to bring this vast programme to completion.


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