Decommissioning – big money in the North Sea

Posted by on Jun 20, 2013 in Business, Energy, Writing

I went along to the EEEGR event on decommissioning opportunities in the North Sea, to find out what this could mean for our region.

There’s enormous capital investment, more than in recent years, as the ‘dash for gas’ speeds up and the coal-fired power stations run down. It’s a £35bn market, a great opportunity for speclalist companies in the region.

The biggest challenges for the industry are maintaining production efficiency and addressing the problems of an ageing infrastructure. And that’s where the decommissioning opportunity fits in: redundant pipelines and platforms will need to be removed. The key concerns are high standards of environmental practice (aiming to return the seabed to its pre-mining state), excellence in health and safety – and minimising costs, because there’s no prospect of a pot of gold (oil or gas) when the work is done. Unlike projects for new fields, cost is the main driver, not schedules.

There are also programmes to extend the working life of some facilities. Higher gas prices and new carboniferous deposits mean that the lifespans of assets in the North  Sea may be much longer than expected back in the 1970s.

It’s a great business opportunity, but there’s a potential showstopper: where will we find enough of the skilled people to do the work? Not just for decommissioning projects, but for all the other once-in-a-generation opportunities such as offshore wind. According to EEEGR, 60,000 skilled people will be needed within the next 10 years. I’m hoping to find some of the answer’s at next month’s EEEGR conference: Powering the Future- Skills for Energy.