A growing number of the 600 oil and gas installations in the North Sea are to be decommissioned. The traditional approach is to remove them, but leaving some structures in place is emerging as a sustainable solution, both economically and for marine life. By Jesper Toft Madsen
igh costs and low oil prices are compelling offshore operators to prolong the lives of existing platforms. When old rigs finally retire, however, they must be removed, reused or disposed of to prevent contamination and potential safety risks to shipping. The decommissioning process is a complicated and expensive affair. Removal was the traditional method for dealing with North Sea rigs, but a new approach is catching on. Marine biologists have pointed out that, over decades of rig operation, marine life has flourished around the deep-sea substructures. In fact, oil rigs off the California coast can house some of the richest maritime ecosystems in the world. “They’re more productive than coral reefs, more productive than estuaries. It just turns out by chance that platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly,” says Milton Love, Professor of Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Keep it simple Tim Martin, Managing Director of Ramboll Oil & Gas in the UK, welcomes the marine biologists’ endorsement. “Leaving some structures behind is a more pragmatic solution that can save operators and society a lot of money, while also preserving
Platforms have a lot of animals that are growing really quickly. Milton Love Professor, University of California
A diver inspects sponges, coral, anemones and invertebrates on an old oil platform off the California coast.