Europe begins compliance with offshore oil and gas installation disposal ban

European compliance with key decisions of the OSPAR international environmental convention banning sea disposal of offshore oil and gas installations has begun with action by the UK Government.


The UK Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has published a new set of guidelines for gas and oil companies, Guidance Notes for Industry on the decommissioning of offshore installations and pipelines. They are the first set of guidances to be issued by a Contracting Party to the OSPAR Convention (Commission for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North East Atlantic).

“After 25 years of UK offshore oil production, hydrocarbons continue to flow from the UK Continental Shelf at record levels,” said UK Energy Minister Helen Liddell. “By the innovative use of new technology and flexible commercial arrangements many fields are still in production which were forecast to have closed down long ago. But there will come a stage when all our offshore oil and gas fields will reach the end of their economic life. In UK waters this must be managed responsibly.”

“The decommissioning of offshore installations is inevitable and it must be done in accordance with domestic legislation and all our international commitments,” added Liddell.

According to the DTI, the UK Government is keen to persuade companies to reuse the products of dismantled installations. Further encouragement has come in the form of a recent announcement that tax relief will be extended to the costs of making oil installations and pipelines available for reuse, cutting costs.

“This guide is a significant step in managing this process,” said Liddell. “Offshore oil and gas operators are required to submit Decommissioning Programmes for approval. The presumption is that the vast majority of installations will be returned to shore for dismantling or for re-use opportunities elsewhere, creating important employment opportunities for the UK oil and gas industry.”

At the first Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR Convention at Sintra, Portugal in 1998, the delegates agreed a binding decision that the topsides of all retired installations must be returned to shore.

The footings of large steel jackets weighing more than 10,000 tonnes, and concrete installations may prove more difficult to remove, says the DTI. Because of this, exemptions may be granted if the internationally agreed assessment and consultation process shows that leaving the installation wholly or partly in place is justifiable.

The Guidance Notes for Industry covering the decommissioning of offshore installations and pipelines under the Petroleum Act 1998 are available on the DTE Oil and Gas website, from the DTI Oil and Gas Office, 4th Floor, Atholl House, Aberdeen, AB11 6AR, or by telephoning 01224 254023.

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