With the crisis, the dismantling of old oil rigs adrift

Avec la crise, le démantèlement des vieilles plateformes pétrolières à la dérive

The fall in oil prices is forcing oil companies to cut their spending and threatens the dismantling planned of old oil platforms in the North sea, despite the risks they pose to the environment.

Activists of Greenpeace had wanted to attract attention by 2019 on marine pollution that cause the remains of those facilities abandoned and rusting in the sea for nearly fifty years, and whose tanks are still found in the oil.

Since then, the pandemic of sars coronavirus led to a collapse in the price of crude and therefore the income of the majors oil companies such as Total, Royal Dutch Shell or BP, which stand out now with great blows of billions in spending.

And those related to the dismantling “are not among their priorities,” notes Sonya Boodoo, an analyst at Rystad Energy, questioned by the AFP.

The planned budget prior to the pandemic of sars coronavirus should be reduced by at least 10% according to it, while £ 1.5 billion (1.66 billion euros) were set aside each year for the removal and recycling of the oil infrastructure out of age-at-large of the United Kingdom, according to the trade association Oil and Gas UK.

“Many platforms in the uk have been built in the 1970s,” said in a note Romana Adamcikova, analyst Wood Mackenzie, “at a time when their end of life were not taken into account in the design”.


In its last annual report published before the crisis, Oil and Gas UK were 1630 wells to be dismantled in the next decade in british waters, which is nearly one every two days and the equivalent of 1.2 million tons of concrete and steel to be removed.

This is, by far, the first country concerned by this topic in the next ten years, according to Wood Mackenzie.

The fall in demand caused by the pandemic Covid-19 does not delay in any way the due date: the decrease in expenditure in the search for new sources puts further pressure on the whole fleet in service and tends to accelerate its end-of-life.

If the surface structures are systematically removed, the dismantling operations do not release to much of the seabed of all the scars left by the oil industry.

The international legal framework, as specified in the Convention for the protection of the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR, Oslo-Paris) signed in 1998, opens the door to several types of “exemptions”.

Can benefit from structures that, paradoxically, imposing as too heavy to be lifted out of the waters, as the steel installations of more than 10 000 tonnes or huge concrete tanks.

Brent, a symbol

Facing the end of his service, the field of Brent, located in the north-east of the Shetland islands in Scotland, iconic as making reference to the price of crude oil at the international market, is among the subjects of discord within the member countries of OSPAR.

After almost fifty years of pumping –the field was discovered in 1971 and operated from 1976–, Shell had to abandon in the sea of the elements of structure of the four platforms out of service and only 640,000 cubic meters of water and 40 000 cubic metres of sediments containing approximately 11 000 tons of oil.

What to do to climb up in the niche of activists of Greenpeace who, armed with banners reading “Shell cleans up behind you”, stormed two of these platforms in October, an action condemned by the justice in the aftermath.

Shell, however, had been invited to review its copy by OSPAR, at least to include a cleaning step.

“We are still waiting,” says David Santillo, a scientist for the laboratory of Greenpeace at the university of Exeter, with the AFP.

All that “in recent times, come under pressure to relax the rules”, he adds, particularly on the part of the United Kingdom.

The sensitive topic is “to study”, according to the list available on the website of the uk regulator (OPRED), which depends on the ministry of Enterprises (BEIS).

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