Shell seeks exemption to North Sea clear-up rules
Decommissioning plan marks important test of ‘leave no trace’ regulations
Royal Dutch Shell wants to leave behind steel and concrete structures as large as the Empire State Building when it abandons one of the biggest oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Environmental groups have also raised concerns over multiple “cells”, each the size of Nelson’s column, which surround the base of the main subsea structures and contain sediment, water and oil. Mr Manning said these would also be left in place but the oil would be siphoned off.
The decommissioning plan for the Brent field, 115 miles north-east of the Shetland Islands, will require exemptions from international regulations, which demand that all traces of oil and gas production are removed after offshore operations end.
Shell said on Monday it had concluded that the safety and environmental risks involved in removing much of the Brent infrastructure would far outweigh the benefits. It plans to submit its proposals for approval from the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change by the end of this year.
The case marks an important test of rules on what should happen to abandoned oil and gas fields in the North Sea as energy groups decommission operations in the coming decades as reserves run down.
Countries in the north-east Atlantic are bound by the Ospar regulations, agreed after the furore in the 1990s over Shell’s abortive plan to dump its Brent Spar oil storage facility in deep waters off the Scottish coast. However, exemptions from the “leave no trace” rules are allowed if companies can demonstrate that full removal of infrastructure would be too difficult or risky.
Shell said this was the case for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete and steel subsea structures beneath its four Brent platforms.