Despite the fact that the huge decommissioning programme for North Sea offshore oil and gas installations, confidently predicted for the past ten years, has not yet happened, sooner or later the worldwide expenditure for decommissioning is predicted to be in the region of £50 billion (US$75 billion). With this in mind, IMCA - the International Marine Contractors Association - has published a far-ranging position paper on this very significant potential market.
It points out, for example, research and development topics which should be considered, and suggests that the contractual risks on decommissioning projects should be more appropriately shared. Report sections are devoted to the background, scale, legislation (with an appendix covering the legislative framework in a number of countries and with reference to the OSPAR treaty); raising awareness; the decommissioning task (e.g. the use/non-use of divers; and the ageing and condition of platforms and equipment). It also covers experience; sectors in the decommissioning market; research and development; the contracting regime; drill cuttings; and safety - an essential issue and crucial to IMCA and its members.
There are about 6500 offshore facilities in the world, nearly two thirds of which are in the Gulf of Mexico. There are some 600 in the North Sea, 400 of which are on the UKCS. In the UK, over the next 10-20 years, on average, 15-20 installations are expected to be decommissioned annually. In addition, several thousands of kilometres of pipelines may have to be removed, trenched or covered. The continental shelf bordering the states of the European Union and Norway has more than 600 offshore oil and gas platforms and several thousand kilometres of pipelines.
It is estimated that some 1200+ platforms have already been removed world-wide and the largest number is being removed in the Gulf of Mexico (about 100 per annum). A large proportion of the world's biggest platforms are in the North Sea. The estimates of expenditure for future North Sea removal vary depending on a number of factors, but it may be assumed that it is about £15-30 billion (US$20-50 billion) for the North Sea's 600+ facilities. World-wide expenditure is expected to exceed £50 billion (US$75 billion) and current estimates (third quarter 2005) suggest that there will be decommissioning work available, particularly in the North Sea, throughout the next decade, into the 2020s and beyond.