Oil platform on sea. Oil platform on sea is offshore structure with facilities to drill wells, extract and process oil and natural gas and temporarily store produced goods until it can be brought to the shore for refining. In most cases the platform contains facilities to house the workforce.

Cost of decommissioning oil and gas

Globally, there are over 7,500 oil and gas platforms in the waters of 53 countries that will become obsolete over the next several decades. Under current guidelines, most will be completely removed, the cost of which is estimated to be $210 billion. The removal of oil and gas platforms is a complex engineering process, which requires some of the heaviest lifting operations ever attempted at sea. The cost of removing them is largely thought to come from public tax concessions. The understanding around the environmental effects of different decommissioning strategies is incomplete and there is a widespread acceptance that complete removal may not always be the best option.

Understanding the effects of decommissioning strategies

DREAMS will look to develop a new understanding of how man-made structures, and how they are decommissioned will influence the structure as well as the marine ecosystem around it. Using novel integration and analyses of existing data, and structured systematic and meta-analytic approaches, outcomes are fed into state-of-the-art ecosystem models to forecast ecosystem states with trade-offs. The project aims to inform decision makers and stakeholders about the benefits and detriments of different decommissioning strategies in the North Sea.
artificial reef - DREAMS
Stormy north sea water view to horizon, credit: mikeuk, courtesy of Getty Images
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The North Sea

DREAMS will focus on the large amounts of oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea as an area of high biological productivity and economic value – supporting the shipping, aggregate extraction and fisheries industries. Much of this infrastructure, which was installed in the 1970s, is not at the end of its useful life. The total cost of decommissioning UK oil and gas infrastructure will be $58 billion – 50-80% of which will be paid through tax relief on expenditure by the UK, Netherlands and Norwegian governments. Furthermore, the UK’s target to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050 in the Climate Change Act translates to a massive increase in offshore wind generation in the North Sea.

Looking at the whole system

DREAMS will assess the potential trade-offs associated with different decommissioning strategies as well as the benefits to various stakeholders, including the effects on ecosystems, conservation goals and socio-economic outcomes. The team will consider strategies in light of the research priorities laid out in the UK Marine Strategy. For example, offshore renewable energy structures may extend existing marine protected areas (MPAs) network by acting as exclusion zones for some fishing activity. This may also cause displacement of fishing to other potentially vulnerable marine areas. Changing or removing North Sea structures will also change the distribution of marine species and therefore also change fishing and conservation areas.

Centre for Systems Thinking: Ocean, Land and Society

The Centre for Systems Thinking: Ocean, Land and Society champions a whole-system transdisciplinary approach to solutions-oriented research to improve planetary health. The Centre brings together an unrivalled critical mass of catchment-coast-ocean expertise from across the University’s Strategic Research Institutes to address 21st-century challenges alongside national and international policy. 
Plymouth, UK: Marina Drone Photos, credit: Drone Motion Stock, courtesy of ShutterstockCentre for Systems Thinking lead image