No Time To Die

Willie Tulloch, Consultant Integrity Engineer

A link between the new James Bond movie and decommissioning in the North Sea may not be immediately obvious; that said, all good things must perhaps come to an end?

But ... in the same way that James Bond seems to keep reinventing himself, so it seems does the North Sea oil industry.

The latest rebirth seems to be revolving around the way that existing offshore assets can become an important part of the “Energy Transition” process.

Is this a rational evolution of the industry or just another desperate attempt to defer the costs of decommissioning?

The scale of the decommissioning challenge in the UKCS is quite staggering: 320 fixed installations, 250 subsea systems, 20,000km of pipelines, 4000 wells, over 1 million tonnes of substructures and subsea structures.

How to address this huge inventory of aging plant and equipment has seen the inception of a whole new industry, and opportunities currently estimated by some at £51billion over the next 40 years.

So, where is the industry going? Are we decommissioning, or are we re-purposing? Are we deferring or are we transitioning?

Clearly there is going to be a mix of some sort; and the industry needs to be flexible and dynamic enough to address all the changing requirements that we will see over the coming years.

From an integrity management point of view, it is vital to be able to understand and react to changing needs and the changing environment rapidly and effectively.

One thing all oil and gas facilities have in common whether for conventional use or re-purpose is they exist to provide a route to market for product. Availability of equipment is reliant on ensuring maintenance and integrity plans are delivered effectively.

In order to keep the options open for the industry, we must ensure that the physical integrity of all assets is maintained for all possible outcomes even where these outcomes are uncertain.

So, what does this have to do with decommissioning and the title to the latest James Bond film? Well … the industry needs to pull itself up by its bootstraps and make the positive decision … not to die.

There is a risk that a too conservative approach by the industry, targeted myopically at cutting the costs of maintenance and integrity programs will minimise future options. The industry needs to recognise that to keep its options open, a baseload of non-negotiable activity will remain.

We need to commit to identifying this baseload and delivering it as cost effectively and dynamically as possible using technology, merged with robust and dependable processes.

Failure to get these elements in place in a reasonable timeframe will see loss of opportunity and the erosion of value, with Cessation of Production (COP) dates inevitably brought forward and opportunities squandered.

Although it’s “No Time To Die”, decommissioning may become the only viable option left to facility owners.

As it said in the closing credits, “James Bond will return”. I think there’s more life left in the North Sea than many currently think too! If we manage integrity wisely.