New wave: decommissioning from theory to practice

The decommissioning phase is incubating some very different philosophies for asset management in later life.

Whilst there have been some significant decommissioning projects undertaken in the North Sea to date, this remains very much an emerging sector. The levels of complexity and cost associated with these activities are serious, not just for our clients but also across a wider stakeholder community. Many projects carry significant uncertainties but what has become clear is that for the decommissioning challenge a traditional approach delivers a less than optimal outcome.

Nigel Lees, vice president – decommissioning, discusses the new ways of thinking and delivery required for the decommissioning projects of the future:

“The journey starts long before cessation of production and recognises that the approach and methods used to operate, modify and maintain these facilities through the early and mid-life are not always appropriate to the late life and decommissioning phases. As a service contractor we have to remain responsive and adaptable to our customer’s needs but we must also take the initiative, offering customers solutions that are safe, efficient and ultimately cost effective.

“Naturally, when approaching decommissioning for the first time, there is a tendency to take an overly cautious approach. The reputation of all parties is paramount but employing the traditional approaches can add significant cost and complexity. With that in mind Wood Group is using the considerable experience it has amassed over two decades of decommissioning activity to underpin the development of a very different philosophy for late life asset management and decommissioning.

“It starts long before the process of decommissioning execution begins, with opportunities to optimise the asset and therefore the program for decommissioning. Thinking differently around operations in the run up to decommissioning allows a smooth and effective management of change in asset phase. The previous cycle of upgrades and maintenance takes on a different complexion as we look to balance the need to shut down against the need to keep some systems operational to support shutdown activity. Most importantly the vision must stretch beyond the milestone of cessation of production (CoP) recognising system importance and hierarchy may change and equipment availability and condition can have a significant impact on post CoP OPEX.”

Technology has a huge role to play as we seek more innovative ways to automate, monitor and manage these assets. It can unlock the potential to reduce or remove the need for manning these facilities after making them safe and to hold them until the point of removal. Leveraging theory into practice allows us to test new approaches and adapt existing techniques and technology.

Nigel continues: “By way of example, the record breaking single lift of Brent Delta was a milestone in North Sea decommissioning but as the topsides were being lifted in May the learnings and next stage innovations were already being deployed to significantly reduce the cost of preparing the next asset, Brent Bravo. This included evolving a more construction-led approach aligned to the way the asset operates which adds greater value over the previous engineering-led process.

“These decommissioning projects are not just challenging but also extremely exciting with regular opportunities to push the technological and operational boundaries. Many of the methods being evaluated and deployed have never been tried before offshore or contain elements that are truly unique. In contrast to the all steel construction on Delta, the Bravo lift will use lifting points constructed in-situ below the facility from reinforced cages that will be filled with concrete, the team is currently working on the challenge of supplying, pouring and curing grout in open boxes suspended over the sea.”

Exciting technical challenges like these are just part of the appeal of decommissioning, providing our brightest and best employees with opportunities to develop and grow. Our clients benefit from our focus on new thinking, leveraging technology and driving continuous improvement to set the benchmark in excellence for this emerging sector and ensure Wood Group remains at the forefront of this fascinating market.

Read more about our latest North Sea decommissioning contract win.