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Decommissioning in the North Sea: a blessing in disguise?

31 May 2018
Laura Brownhill

Decommissioning in the North Sea

Decommissioning can come across as a pretty depressing subject when you discuss it with contractors in the industry. Is it really the end of the road, or could it be a blessing in disguise? We believe that it’s the latter. Decommissioning projects not only present opportunities to re-utilise the skills of an unemployed workforce affected by the oil and gas downturn of 2014, but are also a potential turning point for the UK to establish itself as a global leader in this industry.

The Scottish government has actively backed decommissioning with a steady 10-year decommissioning action plan to ensure safety and cost efficiency.. In 2017, the Scottish government established the Decommissioning Challenge Fund (DCF) to support sector innovation and attract private sector investment. Recently, the government approved grant funding of £1.9 million from the DCF to invest in the OGTC’s National Decommissioning Centre of Excellence in partnership with the University of Aberdeen. This centre has been set up to tackle the current and future decommissioning challenges with top notch research and development in collaboration with the oil and gas industry in the UK and internationally. To expand the pool of knowledge about this important area of the oil and gas industry, the University of Aberdeen, in partnership with Robert Gordon University, has launched UK’s first Masters degree in decommissioning oil rigs and platforms. The course, which can be completed online, is aimed at a broad range of applicants - from those already working in the oil industry to those wishing to learn new skills or retrain.

The 2017 Decommissioning Insight Report by Oil & Gas UK expands on the phenomenal amount of work which will be done as part of decommissioning. By 2025, decommissioning activity will extend to 349 fields across the UK, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch Continental shelves, which will involve the plugging and abandonment of almost 2,500 wells in the North Sea -more than two-thirds of which in the UK. Over 200 platforms are expected to be removed from the North Sea from 2017 to 2025 and nearly 7,800 km of pipeline are forecast to be decommissioned.

Decommissioning in the North Sea

In order to carry out this massive task, a significant number of employment opportunities are estimated to be created in well plugging and abandonment (P&A), decommissioning of pipelines, offshore removal and onshore disposal. We are looking at a rise in demand for workforce in the local market, specialising in;

  • Lifting & Transportation;
  • Subsea and Pipeline;
  • Wells management; and
  • Offshore operations.

A surge in the opportunities is also being felt for the following specialists;

  • Civil engineers;
  • Maritime engineers;
  • Safety engineers;
  • Project managers;
  • Surveyors; and
  • Waste management consultants.

A study on decommissioning published by Boston Consulting Group has revealed that the majority of the engineers acknowledge decommissioning as the future of the industry in the North Sea region, and a large number of business unit professionals at oil and gas companies are interested in a decommissioning career. In addition to technical opportunities, decommissioning projects in the North Sea also offer non-technical opportunities which are spread over all stages; starting from the preparatory work to running facilities after ceasing production.

Leading operators have changed their approach to the hiring process due to the range of skills and experience required for decommissioning.. They have started adopting tailored talent acquisition and development plans for decommissioning, which include sourcing and training interdisciplinary teams of technical and non-technical staff. The study also suggests that many engineers with relevant decommissioning experience are at or close to retirement age which opens the door for new staff to be hired. Therefore it is certain that plenty of work opportunities will be generated by decommissioning.

The Decommissioning activity in Scotland is estimated to support peak employment of 16,925 to 22,775 jobs in the next 10 years, which is exactly what the oil and gas industry in the region needs. Decommissioning is not an easy process but it is an inevitable one. It’s a significant part of the field life cycle - it’s important to focus on the good that comes from it rather than perceiving it as the end of the industry.

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