Royal Dutch Shell plc (Shell) has announced plans to decommission some of its oil rigs in the North Sea, using the largest ship in the world today.
Specifically, Shell will use the ship, Pioneering Spirit, to overcome major challenges that it will encounter in this project, which is said to take about 10 years to complete. The company will focus on its oil rigs located 115 miles northeast of the Shetlands.
Aside from lifting and removing the topsides of the oil rigs, the ship will be used to transport the 30,000-ton platforms, once they are free of their legs, to a yard near Hartlepool to be scrapped. So far, this is the biggest rig decommissioning project the oil field has seen, thus it is closely watched by the industry. In fact, it is monitored by environmental groups, such as WWF Scotland, which are concerned about Shell’s planning process. According to them, the proposals by the oil giant contain insufficient information and could violate international regulations.
As international rules dictate, all elements of an oil rig should be removed once it is decommissioned, though exceptions can be made in particular cases. As for Shell’s plan, they will leave the concrete legs of three of the decommissioned rigs on the seabed.
Sharing hi opinion about this matter, WWF Scotland director Lang Banks stated:
“There are very clear international rules setting out what Shell have to do in order to prove their case to leave these materials on the seabed. Unfortunately in this case we don’t believe Shell have adhered to those rules and they’re going to have to go back and think again. That means what we’re saying is we’re rejecting Shell’s plans and they’re going to have to go back and think.”
However, Shell argues that the safety risks associated with trying to remove the rigs’ legs outweigh minimal environmental benefits. In fact, this is supported by environmental liability and litigation expert Helen Bowdren, who said that it can actually provide some benefits to the marine ecosystem. She said: