Recycle, reuse, but let’s re-purpose too

Tom Baxter, senior lecturer in chemical engineering at Aberdeen University.
Tom Baxter, senior lecturer in chemical engineering at Aberdeen University.
Tom Baxter
Opinion by Tom Baxter

I read with interest Penelope Warne’s Energy Voice piece on Decommissioning Re-use and Recycling.

Many valid points were made, but I feel it missed a very significant “re” – Re-Purpose.

I can understand why – repurposing of offshore architecture is not permitted under the UK’s marine legislation. Not so though with the USA or Australia. Witness the US rigs-to-reefs initiative and Australia’s legislative framework.

The Australian Government recently issued a Discussion Paper – Decommissioning Offshore Petroleum Infrastructure in Commonwealth Waters – October 2018. This paper rightly states that the base case should be complete removal, however it does allow for the option of re-purposing; typically to use offshore infrastructure as a marine habitat. An option not available to the UK.

With the OGA’s drive to reduce decommissioning costs, re-purposing offers a significant opportunity. However, my discussions with the OGA and OPRED have indicated re-purposing is not an option they wish to consider. The current legislative framework being seen as fit for purpose.

As a taxpayer, the largest stakeholder in decommissioning, I find the lack of appetite to challenge legislation hugely disappointing.  Some accuse of me of recklessly ignoring legislation – that is not the case. Currently we are obliged to follow the rules and that is the proper course to take. My contention is that the rules may not be serving the best interests of UK plc. A rule change though would require proof and it is the proof that I am lobbying for. Where is the proof that removal of around 90% of offshore architecture serves society, the environment and the economy? Surely if the taxpayer will shoulder a decommissioning burden of around £24 billion, the reason for that burden should be patently obvious. As part of the proof, address what else could be done with the money saved if architecture is left in place – invest in greenhouse gas reduction measures. A justification from government agencies that we are following the rules is just not good enough from my perspective.

Returning to re-use and recycle, it is puzzling for me why this topic receives so much interest. The OGA’s published figures on decommissioning costs are shown in the following pie chart.

It is clear that the onshore contribution to the overall decommissioning cost is second order. From a cost reduction viewpoint it makes little difference to the overall bill. So why does the Scottish Government make such a big deal of investing in ports to capture this business?  A business that will provide very few sustainable jobs. Why is the Scottish Government not putting much more focus and funding into well P&A and removal? Where is the Scottish heavy lift capability?

Tom Baxter, Senior Lecturer, Chemical Engineering, Aberdeen University