Decom North Sea is providing expertise to meet the £35 billion challenge of decommissioning ageing oil and gas infrastructure whose lifespan has been extended 20 years beyond expectation.
Technological advances and sector innovations see many facilities still operating after 40 years, but with recognition that this cannot be maintained indefinitely, Decom is primed to support operators in complex and costly decommissioning projects for 30 years.
“The industry's success in increasing the life of assets is to its credit,” said Chief Executive Officer Brian Nixon, “but in 2008-2009 there was a recognition by the UK and Scottish government agencies through their dialogue with the operators that there was a significant amount of decommissioning ramping up that could not be pushed back any further.”
Action was needed for the industry to support operators and deliver decommissioning as cost-effectively as possible. After a year-long consultation, Decom North Sea was the agencies' principle recommendation.
Nixon said: “The 30 industry experts consulted felt we needed a dedicated independent industry forum to drive awareness of the forthcoming programme, stimulate development and really start driving efficiency and reducing the cost of this challenging 30-year programme.”
Decom organises a range of events where its members share ideas, contracting strategies and identify challenges with the result of a significantly broader knowledge-base.
Contractors, service specialists and consultants engage in positive dialogue, hearing first-hand from operators and offer insight into how decommissioning planning and execution can be improved.
Learning programmes around the North Sea to the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark identify market opportunities and foster joint venture and collaborative relationships with a view to enhancing capability internationally and taking a holistic approach embracing the talents of European partners.
Nixon said: “We're aware that the UK industry doesn't have all the specialisms and equipment-types we're going to need and it's debatable whether it has the required capacity so we're very actively looking for collaborative and business opportunities.”
Well-attended nationwide and international 'Lunch & Learns' inform operators new to the supply chain of strategies to help them plan and execute their early decommissioning projects effectively.
Decom also holds biannual conferences, distributes newsletters, and holds a useful capability matrix on its website, allowing major contractors and operators to source the necessary consultants, specialists and technology developers.
A growing operation is focused on joint industry projects. Nixon said: “We had a full-day focused innovation workshop in London recently where six operators and contractors looked specifically at the plugging and abandoning of wells. We came out of this with three new initiatives which have been identified as areas for collaborative effort. We will take these forward to try and address areas of common opportunity and challenge.”
Such projects will increase efficiency, develop models and templates and reduce cost, not only to operators, but to taxpayer's who shoulder between 50 and 75 percent of the £35bn burden.
Recently introduced two-day training courses, led by three industry experts boasting 105 years' experience, will provide fantastic opportunities for industry newcomers.
The first, held in November, provided a valuable overview of the entire decommissioning lifecycle. In the wake of its success, Decom plans to repeat the course quarterly, and also to develop ones aimed at individual aspects of the process.
Nixon said: “There was a particular call for more specific and detailed courses on individual aspects of the decommissioning process which we will design and develop. The first course was very well received and we will repeat it in other parts of the country and Norway and the Netherlands too.”
Technological breakthroughs like laser-cutting and the under-construction super-heavy-lifting vessel will provide a step forward, but Nixon believes a focus on developing existing technologies while enhancing skills is what will really drive efficiency.
“Its not all about technology, but innovative approaches to certain tasks and phases and enhancing the skills of the people who will use the equipment required,” he said.
"We have mapped out the supply chain over the 10 phases of a decommissioning project and understand what is required in terms of facilities, technologies and services in each of those phases.
“Generally speaking the industry has the capabilities required, but analysis reveals a few areas where there is need for enhancement. Some of that is likely to be delivered by multi-skilling: adding on additional modules of training to existing skilled personnel to allow them to offer a wider range of skills.”
With Decom's solid strategy for developing staff, broadening expertise and increasing efficiency, the sector looks set for substantial savings.