Since production began in the 1970’s, 500 oilrigs and 45,000 kilometres of pipelines have been installed in the North Sea to help the UK and Norway extract the oil and gas found in reserves buried there. Falling production levels and ageing infrastructure mean that many sites are no longer profitable and oil companies have had to begin closing operations.
Leaving the huge network of infrastructure, such as pipes and rigs, poses a risk to the environment, as leaks could occur as the metal rusts. Decommissioning is the only viable long term option, and oil service companies are eager to gain a large portion of the market, which Deloitte has estimated could be worth $50 billion over the next 30 years.
Related article: UK Shale Gas: Promising but Not Cheap
The only problem is that no one really knows when the market will explode. New technology continues to allow oil companies to extract ever more reserves from the fields, constantly extending the production life of the rigs and delaying the date of decommissioning. Contractors do not want to miss out when the work is finally available, but preparing too early could be very costly.
Allseas, a global leader in offshore pipeline installation and subsea construction, has decided to stick its neck out and order a giant catamaran designed for oil rig decommissioning, hoping to be ready for when the market booms.
The 382 metre long, 124 metre wide catamaran is being built in the Daewoo Shipyard in South Korea. It will have the strength to lift 48,000 tonnes, roughly the same as four Eiffel Towers, and more than four times the capacity of the current top heavy lifters.
The Pieter Schelte under construction.
Edward Heerema, the CEO of Allseas, stated that “this is the biggest bet of my career.”
The ship will be able to remove the topside of the rig and carry it on the bow, and then reverse to lift the jacket at the stern, then transporting both sections with relative ease to the shore.
Related article: UK Hopes to Earn Sanctions Waiver for BP Gas Field
Several videos on the Allseas website demonstrate exactly how the Pieter Schelte, named after Edward’s father, works to remove the rig.
The ship will begin operations in the North Sea, where the rough seas should prove little obstacle due to the sheer size and stability if the vessel. It has already been commissioned to remove two platforms from Shell’s Brent North Sea field in 2015/16, but could well be sent out to work in the Gulf of Mexico, South East Asia, Brazil, or West Africa sometime in the future.
David Thomas, an analyst at Credit Suisse, told Reuters that he doesn’t “see the Schelte being anything other than a one off, but by taking the risk they've cornered the market in advance.”
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com