UK Government must take “ethical lead” on Shell’s Brent decommissioning plans

Shell makes investment decision on Penguin
Shell makes investment decision on Penguin

An Aberdeen-based oil and gas industry expert has called on the UK Government to take an “ethical lead” on offshore decommissioning.

Alex Russell, professor of petroleum accounting at Robert Gordon University, said Shell’s plans to leave large amounts of infrastructure from its Brent field in the North Sea set a bad example for developing countries.

Prof Russell said the UK Government should order a complete clearance of the seabed now, instead of leaving future generations to deal with “unknown consequences”.

In July, Shell said it would recommend leaving behind the 300,000 tonne legs from three of the field’s four platforms in place, along with storage cells, the lower section of the Alpha platform’s jacket, drill cuttings and heavier pipelines.

At the time, Shell said the safety risks outweighed the environmental benefits associated with removing the infrastructure from the field, which lies 115 miles north-east of Shetland.

But Prof Russell said the company’s logic was flawed: “Shell has clearly spent millions preparing arguments to support what they are planning to do.

“They have always and will always prefer to leave things in place to get things done as cheaply as possible. It’s all very well and good having these scientific reports but I don’t think they hold water.

“The technical developments we have seen mean these things can be done safely. It would cost a lot more but it also means more people being employed and the creation of spin off companies in the UK and Scotland.”

The decommissioning of Brent, which has produced oil for 40 years, is one of the most complex engineering projects of its kind and is expected to take a decade to complete.

The field is made up of four platforms, more than 140 wells, 64 storage shells and 28 pipelines.

Shell plans submit its Brent decommissioning proposals to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) at the end of the year.

If Beis approves the plans, permission to leave structures behind must then be granted by Ospar, a pan-European body which was set-up to protect the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic and which takes its name from the Oslo and Paris Conventions.

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