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11 May

Brent Field Decommissioning Represents Huge Opportunity For North East

Brent Field Decommissioning Represents Huge Opportunity For North East

Most people will have heard of Brent Crude - for years it’s been the major benchmark prices for purchases of oil worldwide - but not everyone will know of the Brent field, Shell’s massive investment that was the cornerstone of the UK’s oil and gas industry for over 40 years.

Located some 116 miles NE of Lerwick in the Shetlands, and almost halfway between Norway and the Shetlands, the field was discovered in 1971 with an expected life span of just 25 years. Developed by four huge platforms, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, and the infamous floating Spar, so loved by Greenpeace activists in 1995, and a remote flare, used to burn off excess gas before gas handling facilities were installed, the field actually produced around 3bn barrels of oil equivalent, producing at it’s peak in 1982 more than half a million barrels a day. Since production began in 1976, two thirds of the revenue generated has been paid to the Government in tax, estimated at an eye-watering £20 billion.

Production from the Delta platform was suspended in December 2011 and all of its 48 wells were plugged and abandoned, in accordance with the Oil and Gas UK Guidelines. Both Alpha and Bravo ceased production in November 2014. Production from Charlie is expected to close off in the next few years.

The Brent field is now being decommissioned in a mammoth engineering project for which planning began in 2006, will involve over 180 organisations and will take over 10 years to complete. The programme will begin with the lifting of the topside module of Brent Delta which will be taken to the Able Seaton Port (ASP) facility at Teesside, operated by Able UK Ltd for dismantling, recycling and disposal.

Shell plans to use the world's largest double-hulled ship, the innovative Korean-built, SLV (Single Lift Vessel) Pioneering Spirit, to take Delta's 23,500-tonne topside to Hartlepool where it will be broken up at the yard, where it is expected that 200 jobs will be created. 

According to Shell, the operation to lift the topside onto the ship - scheduled for this Summer - will be the biggest offshore lift ever carried out. If successful, it could be used as a template for the dismantling of other North Sea platforms. The twin hulls of the amazing vessel will be positioned either side of the platform before the 16 huge beams of the Topside Lifting System are extended underneath the module and locked into the topside lifting points. The vessel then de-ballasts to take nearly all the module’s weight before the final lift, to take the topside clear of the legs, is accomplished by hydraulically operated yokes and further de-ballasting.

Plans for the next stages, the removal of the concrete gravity-base structure (GBS) which are similar to those of Bravo and Charlie whilst Alpha has a steel jacket, are still being finalised but will be even more challenging, not only due to their sheer size (the concrete bases weigh around 300,000 tonnes each whilst Alpha’s steel jacket is a mere 17,000 tonnes) but also the condition of their integral oil storage cells, not seen since construction in Norway during the 1970’s. 

So challenging (and expensive) would this be that, according to the Financial Times in December 2015, Shell, amazingly supported by its one-time nemesis of Greenpeace, is lobbying regulators of the 1998 OSPAR Convention (The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) - in essence, a post Brent Spar protest agreement by the 15 NE Atlantic countries that stipulated oil companies must remove everything from the seabed when closing down platforms - to leave the base structures in place arguing that the eventual environmental impact will be less.

So while the arguments and planning goes on, why the interest? Primarily because the market for decommissioning work is huge and the North East needs to continue to lobby to ensure we are in pole position to seize this opportunity rather than allow the Government to give it away in yet another political sop to our Scottish neighbours.

The international energy market research group, Douglas Westwood, produced the “North Sea Decommissioning Market Forecast 2016-2014” in February which estimated the North Sea alone represents a decommissioning market between 2016 and 2040 that could amount to between $70 billion and $82 billion.

The Rigzone website gives some further details, “During the 2019-2026 period, the UK North Sea industry will see the removal of some 144 platforms, according to Douglas Westwood report, which points out that the low oil price environment and ages of platforms are key drivers of decommissioning activity on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).” 

“In the short term, industry body Oil & Gas UK pointed out in its Activity Survey 2016 that 21 fields ceased production on the UKCS last year - even though the industry had anticipated only 14 fields would stop producing. A further 80 fields in the UK are expected to cease production over the next five years. So far, the previous two years has seen decommissioning spend on the UKCS at around $1.45 billion per year, but Oil & Gas UK expects this to start growing significantly - to more than $2.9 billion in 2017.”

So the opportunity is there, it’s whether the region can take advantage of it…

I also have to admit a personal interest in the Brent story. Brent Alpha was the very first platform I ever worked on as a young roustabout for Deutag Drilling in 1978, supposedly as a temporary job that would enable me to finance a Master’s degree. A helicopter pilot who serviced the rigs sold the enclosed grainy photo to me. 

I stepped off an old semi-submersible in Vietnam as Driller some 15 years later thinking as a grown man with two young children it was time I took a proper job, using my oilfield knowledge and experience, but did I enjoy my time on the rigs? To quote Brad Pitt in ‘Fury’, best job I ever had!

John Dias, Managing Director, jd@silverbulletmarketing.co.uk

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