Getting ready for a new era
This is expected to be a lengthy process, with the gradual dismantling of the North Sea oil and gas industry expected to continue up to 2050 and beyond. However, it is estimated that in the next five years alone around 140 of the total of 800 fields currently in operation will be closed. Where closure occurs, decommissioning and dismantling will follow on close behind. This will bring with it many challenges, but also many opportunities. Analysts predict that around €50 billion will need to be spent on decommissioning over the next 35 years. Dismantling the production facilities and transporting their structures and components back to the shore for recycling is going to be a major endeavour. Amongst the range of off and onshore infrastructure that will be required will be a new generation of vessels to undertake the work. Here as elsewhere cost minimisation will be vital in what will be a non-profit making activity for the oil majors paying the bills.
Getting ready for the next stage
Damen is already making plans for this new offshore industry. It recently announced that it is developing specialist decommissioning concept vessels that anticipate the demands that will be made on them. Firstly, they must be capable of taking on multiple roles; dismantling offshore structures is a highly complex business that at first sight will require a wide variety of specialist vessels that can between them undertake roles such as providing craneage for the removal of components, deck space for transport to land and accommodation for personnel working on-site.
Damen however is proposing modular vessels that can be quickly fitted out with mission-specific modules. This allows an individual hull to offer a range of specialist capabilities, resulting in maximum usage and reduced investment. Damen intends to focus on the middle market, leaving the largest platforms to the specialists with their very large vessels. It calculates that vessels capable of lifting up to 1,600 tonnes will cover 85% of the offshore structures in the North Sea.
Cooperation is the key
This work is part of a broader move across the industry to develop collectively the tools and techniques that will be needed in the decades ahead. Damen is working with its customers and suppliers to determine what equipment will be required and the tasks that will be need to be addressed in an era of high volume decommissioning. The Damen vessel concepts are intended to stimulate debate and encourage cooperation so that the industry is prepared for the future. Existing vessels such as Damen’s SOV, the first of which is currently in build for Bibby Marine Services, as the Bibby WaveMaster 1, will also have a role to play. Originally designed to provide advanced marine access to wind turbines, its attributes are just those that will be required in the labour-intensive business of decommissioning.
It is early days yet, but the race is on to get ready for the new offshore era. Those who start preparing now will be best positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that are just around the corner.