An article about decommissioning in Energy prompts me once again to question the logic in widespread investment across UK harbours for this market. I just can’t see how this makes sense. Where is the business case that supports all this investment?
In terms of jobs, the GMB recently produced a report called Status Capacity and Capability of North Decommissioning Facilities. Interestingly, it provided a metric that the 25,000-tonne Murchison topsides will take 45 people to downsize and process – that is 555 tonnes per man. The report also indicated that about 69,000-tonnes of material will be decommissioning per year.
A simple analysis of those two numbers leads to a figure of 124 jobs per year. Spread that over the UK ports vying for decommissioning business and come up with a business case.
From a country perspective, I also struggle with the overall decommissioning business case. Over the last two years I’ve been to see the Scottish Government, met numerous members of parliament, written to and met many decommissioning stakeholder organisations. I have presented my case of the misuse of taxpayers’ money being used to unnecessarily remove offshore architecture.
When compared with the benefits from using taxpayers’ money to fund green energy projects, I’ve asked why removal is best for the country from an economic, social and environmental standpoint and have been unable to obtain reasonable answers.
The Scottish Government says decommissioning is a Westminster responsibility, which is true, but shouldn’t they be doing something to influence policy.
The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) tells me that they will follow the European Ospar* regulations – well-intentioned legislation leading the UK and Scotland to a very poor outcome. Won’t Beis challenge it?
My alternative would be to use the money saved from leaving infrastructure in place for green energy projects.
I am frequently told that the Greens will never buy it. Try telling that to Jonny Hughes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
When I discuss my thoughts on decommissioning with informed industry workers I consistently obtain very positive feedback and encouragement but I can’t get a big boy to take notice. There is a huge missed opportunity here and I’m left contemplating what more can I do.
Who are the big boys? Well it must be the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) decommissioning task force, whose goal is to minimise the cost of decommissioning with a focus on delivering what would otherwise not be delivered by industry.
What better way to minimise costs than not remove the infrastructure, thereby saving billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at a stroke.
The OGA’s role is also to maximise economic recovery. Can the OGA explain to the taxpayer how the current strategy is maximising economic recovery for the nation?
I also wonder if the expert panel looking into decommissioning tax reform will ask the fundamental question – what is the basis for removal and why is it being undertaken?
I can’t help thinking that I am exposing an inconvenient truth. Too many organisations have too much at stake here to contemplate the obvious.
Tom Baxter is a senior lecturer in chemical engineering at Aberdeen University.
*Under Ospar rules, installations must be removed in their entirety once they reach the end of their production cycle, though exceptions have been made for structures installed before the rules came into effect.
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