Bosses at Kishorn Port say “momentum” is building as they work towards a multi-million pound extension of the drydock to capitalise on North Sea decommissioning.
Kishorn Port Limited (KPL), owners of the facility first used for constructing oil installations 50 years ago, are taking steps to ensure as many structures as possible end up being dismantled there.
Their plans, submitted recently to Highland Council, are designed to “future proof” Kishorn for the “breadth of opportunity” in FPSO decommissioning, as well as construction for offshore wind and renewables more generally, director Colin Ortlepp told Energy Voice.
EV first reported last month on KPL’s plan, which involves extending the 160 metre drydock to accommodate FPSOs which are between 200-250m long.
Ortlepp estimates this could see the total number of workers on site at a given time increase to up to 150, from around 100 currently, across all activities at the port.
He said: “We have had serious inquiries for a number of opportunities, so we’re seeing that increased level of interest in the port and the dock and, looking ahead, we do see there’s going to be future opportunities there.
“We’ve become aware that, in the fullness of time, there’s likely to be larger vessels, FPSOs, that will potentially come up for decommissioning.
“Some of those are 250m in length and we thought, well, if we can get the opportunity, why do we not seek to try and future proof to give us that capability and give us that breadth of opportunity there.
“So we really want to position ourselves to take as many types of structures and vessels as we can.”
After hosting the world’s largest semi-submersible rig last year, the Ocean GreatWhite, Kishorn has followed up this year with temporary mooring contracts for the Banff and Voyageur Spirit FPSOs, currently stationed there.
So while these vessels are not out of place at Kishorn, specific decom opportunities for even larger ships are expected and KPL wants to be ready.
To decommission them also requires some changes to the port, and it was a chance event earlier this year which put that opportunity “in the spotlight”.
After a “quiet” January-February for KPL, March saw the MV Kaami, a Norwegian cargo vessel, run aground in the Minch, a body of water off Scotland’s west coast.
Kishorn was picked as an emergency location to take the stricken vessel for recycling which, after drafting in John Lawrie Metals, was completed in July.
The idea for extending the docks for FPSOs was “kicking about”, Ortlepp said, but the Kaami helped demonstrate what it can do.
“I think it drew it to a lot of peoples’ attention. Particularly from an oil and gas decom perspective, the work that John Lawrie did was exemplary, both in health and safety and environment, and it showed that having that contained facility is an ideal environment for decom work.
“Not exclusively, but particularly decom work. So it did put it back in the spotlight and bring the site to the fore.”
MV Kaami was considered an emergency, so rules were relaxed, but Kishorn is working to be put on an EU list of approved ship recycling sites, which will underscore its health, safety and environmental credentials.
To do so, it is applying for Highland Council to update its planning consent, which currently excludes shipbreaking activities.
The move could have national significance – as just four UK ports can do this, including one other in Scotland – as the country tries to take a larger slice of the decommissioning pie.
Ortlepp said: “By and large the majority are in the EU but you don’t have to be in the EU to be on the list.
“That’s quite important because, as you know, as of next year we’re not in the EU, but we can still be on the list of EU ship recycling facilities.
“Asset owners are saying from a corporate, social responsibility, environmental audit perspective they want to be sure the assets are being handled properly and not causing damage to the environment.
“A way of doing that is to have those assets in facilities that are on this list.”
Locally, an expansion bringing in more decom work would also be welcome as parts of the Wester Ross region are considered economically fragile.
KPL said its aim is to try to bring in as many local contractors as it can as opportunities increase.
“On bigger projects, you’d be in double-figure numbers of staff on a particular project at any one time”, Ortlepp said.
“Then coupled with all the other activity going on at the port – aquaculture, day-to-day oil and gas work, other work, we could be well over 100 people to potentially 150 people on site at any one time.
“What we have been able to do on the back of the projects is employ a number of local people and use quite a range of local contractor skills. Our aim is to try to employ and contract locally where we can.
“That part of Wester Ross, I think, is deemed as a fragile economic area so the more that we can put back into the local community the better.”
The firm is “keeping its ears to the ground” on opportunities as they emerge in decom, but that’s not the only feather it is adding to its cap.
KPL, a joint-venture of Ferguson Transport and quarry firm Leiths who secured permission for the redevelopment of the port in 2013, wants the port to be used for offshore wind manufacturing projects.
That sector has seen some big promises recently, with Boris Johnson pledging last month every home in the UK will be powered by offshore wind.
In planning documents, KPL said that sector has been “slow” to grow in Scotland but that’s not deterring the company.
Ortlepp said: “I think strategically it is absolutely clear that offshore wind, be it floating or fixed, is going to have a significant pivotal role to play in the UK and Scotland meeting climate change obligations.
“I think there’s a considerable head of steam now behind that and that’s going to happen.
“We saw Boris Johnson announce earlier in the month that they were making £160m available for port infrastructure upgrades to be able to have facilities in the UK for manufacturing of wind turbine infrastructure.
“You’ll also see off the back of the Crown Estate Scot Wind leasing round which has kicked off. There’s now a considerable interest from a whole range of companies to participate in that process and, at Kishorn, we’re seeing specific interest in the potential use of our facilities.”
That £160m fund is one of the avenues that KPL is considering pursuing to realise its ambitions.
In September, Boris Johnson was also quoted as saying the UK could become the “Saudi Arabia” of offshore wind power, comparing domestic capacity for wind to huge oil reserves in the Middle East.
However, recent events have called into question the ability of UK and Scottish firms to capitalise on this, particularly on manufacturing, as KPL plans.
Last month it was revealed the Scottish Government was pulling its support for the BiFab manufacturing firm in Fife, leading its Canadian owners to pull its bid for a major contract and putting the future of its three yards in doubt.
This followed the loss of other contracts to overseas competitors.
However Kishorn, with other work streams to fall back on, is hopeful, particularly considering the ScotWind licensing round in June – the first for a decade – called for local content.
Ortlepp said: “In terms of Kishorn, we’ve got a number of different interests in the port.
“We’ve got aquaculture interests in terms of supply of fish feed to the aquaculture industry, we’ve got oil and gas servicing with the Ocean GreatWhite for example, decommissioning of oil and gas assets and other shipping assets. And there’s offshore wind or other renewables technologies, like wave.
“So we’ve got at least four strategic activities there. I wouldn’t want to comment on BiFab specifically because that’s them. But one thing has been clear from the Crown Estate ScotWind round is they’ve asked potential applicants to demonstrate how they would use local content in their developments.
“I think that’s a recognition of the need to try to keep more of the added value within Scotland and the UK.”