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“In the central North Sea there’s less activity but the northern North Sea is getting busier. For example, we’ve seen the Brent Bravo topsides coming into Teesside recently and Ninian North will be coming into Shetland next year.”
However, he agrees with Stevenson that successful supply chain companies have decommissioning as a part of their business, perhaps combined with late-life operations.
He points out that preparations for the end can start as much as a decade ahead of cessation of production.
Esson said: “The interesting crossover is now coming where we’re having the discussion about net zero emissions and how we could potentially re-use some of these facilities for carbon capture and storage (CCS) or hydrogen production or other repurposing of oil and gas facilities.
“That’s really starting to come at us quite significantly now and we’re going to have to get after that reasonably quickly. Around 80% of the infrastructure could be out of the North Sea in the next 10 years. If we’re going to capitalise on that we need to get moving and develop options at pace.”
Surely there’s a case for a more or less complete clear-out ahead of future long-term maritime energy and carbon storage activity?
“That may turn out to be correct,” Esson said. “But it is incumbent upon us to look at what those opportunities are and where we can use a circular economy approach to maximise what we already have out there.
“Can we reuse some of that to help reduce the cost of the likes of CCS? The recent announcement about repurposing the Ketch and Schooner platforms for offshore wind support in the Southern Gas Basin is a good example.
“There have been a number of programmes, particularly on the Dutch side, over the last few months of small gas platform topsides and jackets being switched around to enable repurposing.”
But how will decommissioning fit into the UKCS net zero commitment ambition pronounced at Offshore Europe 2019? After all, decommissioning is a very intensive process. It’s about taking big things out, chopping them up and recycling as much as is feasible.
Over to Tulloch, whose role as Net Zero Solutions Centre (NZSC) manager is a new one: “We have four focus areas at the NZSC: Operational emissions and that’s 50 mega-tonnes per annum at the moment but reducing to net zero by 2050, plus offshore wind, hydrogen and CCS.
“Our short-term focus is always going to be operational emissions as reducing these is essential to maintaining the licence to operate.
“There are a number of quite straightforward things that can be done on this front. Increasing the efficiency of gas turbines is probably number one. Around 75-80% of carbon dioxide produced by the North Sea industry comes from power provision.”
This isn’t surprising as much North Sea offshore power generation kit is based on designs like the Rolls Royce RB211 engine, which is rooted in the 1960s though considerably upgraded since the early days of the first RB21-24 industrial variant emerged in 1974.
“They’re not as efficient as new generation engines, nor are they operating in optimal conditions in many cases,” said Tulloch.
“There’s a lot we can do to recover waste heat, for example. It’s the simplest thing to focus on short-term by applying the Rankine cycle: a thermodynamic cycle which converts heat into mechanical energy which usually gets transformed into electricity by electrical generation.
“Not only do heat recovery technologies make environmental sense, they quite often make commercial sense too. Raising energy efficiency helps reduce production costs and cut carbon emissions.
“We reckon we can reduce 20-25% of operational emissions, just by making production efficiency improvements.
“There are a few operators that have teams working on this at the moment. If we can take best practice from some of them and spread that across the basin, then that would be a great start.”
However, in 2000 and influenced by Norway in this regard, BP proposed to power the Forties field from the beach, which it then operated.
The scheme, the first phase of which was predicted to come on stream in winter 2003-4, promised a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from Forties as well as