Environmental Groups Criticize Brent Decom Plans

Brent platforms

Published Apr 11, 2017 11:31 AM by The Maritime Executive

A coalition of environmental groups has called for more information on plans put forward by Shell to decommission the company’s four North Sea Brent offshore oil and gas platforms.

WWF, Greenpeace UK, the Marine Conservation Society, Friends of the Earth Scotland, KIMO, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and RSPB Scotland say Shell failed to adhere to clear internationally agreed criteria and procedures, and they have objected to Shell’s proposal for leaving the legs of some of its four platforms on the seabed. 

The Brent field lies off the north-east coast of Scotland, midway between the Shetland Islands and Norway. It is one of the largest fields in the North Sea and is served by four large platforms – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. The topsides sit on legs which stand in 140 meters of water.

After completing a comparative assessment process of feasible decommissioning options the recommendations being proposed include leaving in place the gravity base structures, Brent Alpha footings, the drill cuttings and gravity base structure cell contents.

Since 1998, the dumping or leaving wholly or partly in place, of disused offshore installations is prohibited within certain sea areas under OSPAR Decision 98/3 on the Disposal of Disused Offshore Installations. However, under certain circumstances companies can seek permission to leave some installations in place.

On submitting the plans, Shell said: “Our proposals include securing 154 wells safely, removing the tops of all four platforms, recovering debris lying on the seabed, and extracting the oil trapped in underwater storage cells. We recommend that the concrete structures, including the legs supporting the platforms, remain in place in addition to the contents of these structures. 

“Constructed nearly half a century ago, they were not designed to be removed. We have to consider the safety of those who will work offshore to deliver this project. The safety risks associated with trying to remove them outweigh minimal environmental benefit.

“These proposals are the result of 10 years of engineering and scientific analysis, independent studies and planning.”

The joint submission from the eight environmental organizations said:

“The material presented cannot be clearly cross referenced to OSPAR 98/3 requirements for each of the major components and pollutants for which Shell seeks derogation. There is a lack of quantitative analysis based on hard data, a significant reliance on subjective, qualitative judgments and opinions by experts, including Shell’s own engineers, which has led to some options being excluded from further consideration. 

“There is also a lack of quantification of the uncertainties in many of the estimates made, which was also highlighted by the Independent Review Group. The groups recommended that Shell be requested to provide further specific information in order to be able to adequately assess the proposals.”

“Despite over 3,000 pages of documentation, it has not been possible to come to a view on Shell’s decommissioning proposal due to insufficient information being provided by the company across several key areas,” said WWF Scotland director Lang Banks.

“Given the enormous size of the rigs and the iconic nature of the Brent field, its decommissioning is being watched closely, both here and globally, and it should therefore be aiming to set the highest possible benchmarks for the rest of the industry to follow.

“If done right, it could open the door for this country to lead a new multi-billion pound, global decommissioning industry that could create thousands of jobs as we continue our transition away from fossil fuels.” 

Industry analysts Wood Mackenzie have estimated that at least 140 fields will cease production over the next five years, with a total of £55 billion (real terms) to be spent on decommissioning the U.K. Continental Shelf.

Shell’s Brent decommissioning website is here.

The environmental groups’ response to the plan is available here.

The Shell Brent Decommissioning Project: Independent Review Group Final Report is available here.