Opinion: Shell’s Brent Delta activity shows we are on right path

Nigel Jenkins
Nigel Jenkins, Decom North Sea chief executive
Nigel Jenkins
Opinion by Nigel Jenkins

By unveiling phase one of its plans for the Brent Delta this week, Shell has certainly propelled decommissioning into the headlines and consciousness of everyone, whether they’re directly involved with oil and gas or otherwise.

By its very nature, North Sea decommissioning is a developing business that is new to many, and misinterpreted by even more. It’s important right now to make it clear that it is not about the premature closure of the North Sea oil and gas industry.

In reality, decommissioning is a developing sector that is full of opportunity; the opportunity to win business and opportunities to problem-solve through innovation.

Crucially, and more pertinent than ever just now, this all needs to take place within the context of MERUK (Maximising Economic Recovery in the UK), a strategy which was formally introduced almost exactly a year ago, through the Wood Review.

To achieve those cost efficiencies and benefits, decommissioning activity simply can’t take place in isolation. It requires long-term collaboration between operators, the supply chain and bodies such as Decom North Sea, the new Oil & Gas Authority, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) and Oil & Gas UK.

Therefore Shell’s decision to bring forward the submission of their decommissioning programme for Brent’s topside to Decc was clearly not a knee-jerk reaction to falling oil prices, but as a result of a long term understanding that the field is nearing the end of its life and the structures will soon not be needed.

What’s more, the submission allows Shell to implement its rigorous project plan for removal of the topside, which in turn allows planning for its dismantling and recycling. The last two elements will take place in 2016 at the Able shipyard in Hartlepool.

By bringing forward the submission of its Decommissioning Programme, Shell is supporting Able develop a world class onshore decommissioning and recycling facility which should ensure the continuity of jobs that have been, and will be, created at its yard.

Whilst Shell’s Decommissioning Programme is subject to approval, the timescale of these contracts, and the resulting activity provide a succinct illustration of the meticulous planning and engineering involved in decommissioning and the absolute importance of early engagement and collaboration between operators, suppliers and the regulator.

That is music to Decom North Sea’s (DNS) ears and exactly the type of outcome we work to achieve. We’re here to help and support the industry through the late life and decommissioning phases.

DNS drives meaningful collaboration for the benefit of its members. This is fundamental to effective and efficient decommissioning activity which will ultimately benefit the environment and the UK tax payer.

It is my very strong belief that the UK should – and will – create a centre of decommissioning excellence. Responsibilities around safety, finance and the environment are key challenges.

Examples such as Shell’s proposed Brent Delta activity show we are on the right path and also demonstrate just how vital relationships between operators, suppliers and bodies such as Decom North Sea are, when it comes to ensuring that UKCS decommissioning will lead by example and inform future activity across the globe.

Nigel Jenkins is chief executive of Decom North Sea

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