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Shell applied on Wednesday to begin decommissioning the entire Brent oilfield—the namesake of ‘Brent crude’--in the North Sea, in a project that could take up to a decade to complete.
While Scottish authorities estimate that the North Sea still has some 20 billion barrels of oil waiting to be developed, the Brent fields have been the backbone of the UK’s multi-billion-dollar oil and gas industry for some 40 years.
The fields hit their peak production in the 1980s, pumping out some 500,000 barrels of oil per day, which over a lifetime of production has added up to four billion barrels of oil.
Shell submitted its full decommissioning plan to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Wednesday, while initial preparations began in 2006.
Now, within only a matter of months, the top portion of the Brent Delta platform—which closed down operations in 2011--should be removed and scrapped. Shell will also have to deal with more than 28 pipelines connected to this field.
For the time being, production from the Brent field will continue through the remaining platform—Charlie.
The Scottish authorities are hoping the plan will soon lead to a barrage of new jobs for decommissioning, and view decommissioning itself as a major growth industry in the North Sea.
The decommissioning, however, is not without its controversy. Shell’s plan would leave the colossal concrete legs of three oil rigs in the North Sea for up to 500 years after decommissioning—a plan opposed by some environmentalists, who would only accept the proposal if it were deemed too dangerous to remove the legs.
Shell’s decommissioning plan submission comes only a week after the supermajor sold off some US$3.8 billion in North Sea assets. The assets represented over half of Shell’s North Sea production in 2016, including fields it got when it acquired BG Group.
By Damir Kaletovic for Oilprice.com
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Damir Kaletovic is a veteran investigative journalist covering Europe and the Middle East, and a senior consultant for Divergente Research.