Over the next decade, the decommissioning market is predicted to enjoy positive growth, particularly in Europe. Only oil and gas companies in the Gulf of Mexico have been involved in dismantling and removal activities longer. The narrative stretches back half a century to the installation of the first oil platforms. As these structures have an average lifetime of around 20-30 years, it is easy to see why decommissioning remains in its infancy.
In the North Sea, the interest in decommissioning is growing steadily and more projects are currently being executed than ever before. One of the key differences between the North Sea and other significant oil-producing areas – such as southeast Asia – is that activities in Europe is driven by legislation.
The OSPAR Convention dates to the early 1990s and outlines strict guidelines on environment. It stipulates that any structure assembled on the seabed must be removed entirely. All oil companies must adhere to these regulations in Europe, which predominantly influences developments in the North Sea. In other areas of the world, there are limited guidelines, which means that decommissioning is not always an operational imperative.
Since early 2015, low oil and gas prices have also become an important driver. Owing to the nature of the work required, there is no monetary incentive to be recouped from decommissioning in itself. Therefore, oil and gas companies are continually looking for solutions to help them reduce costs and improve efficiency.
IHC IQIP has long been at the heart of recent decommissioning developments in Europe, and can trace its roots in this sector back to 2001. Its track record began with the Frigg template in the North Sea, and the company has built great experience in mitigating the risks associated with this dynamic market.
The prime risk inherent in decommissioning concerns unknown factors. These are most prominent when handling older, more fragile subsea structures. After long periods of time, it is even possible that the relevant technical drawings no longer exist. In addition, the majority of installations were never originally intended to be decommissioned. This means that meticulous research must be carried out in advance before an operation can begin.
Detailed surveys are needed to create comprehensive plans of any existing subsea templates, jackets, tripods and pipelines, and how they can be safely brought to the surface. In most cases, IQIP executes FEM analyses and evaluates the integrity of the equipment to be removed. At every phase, careful preparation is crucial.
“During an operation, everything revolves around safety,” says Peter Wempe. “There are many unknown elements, so we have to ensure everything we do is performed with caution. As such, we prefer to be involved at the earliest possible stage – preferably during the FEED studies of the operators. In this way, we are ideally positioned to offer the best advice to our customers.
“IQIP’s core competence is in clamping and handling, so we prefer our customers to contact us in the first instance for advice about equipment and services. We are happy to work closely with them to discuss feasibility studies, trying to utilise standard lifting equipment or create state-of-the-art solutions that are among the safest in the industry.”
Alongside its extensive track record, IQIP is uniquely positioned due to its ability to combine existing technologies into customised solutions. This is something that sets it apart in a market that has been determined as having real growth potential. “If we are involved at an early stage, we can combine several existing techniques safely and efficiently,” continues Peter Wempe.
“I think we are well-known for this type of work, because using proven technology is so important. Decommissioning is open to any kind of innovation, so long as we can prove that it is effective and reliable. IQIP’s strategy is not about copying what our competitors are doing. It’s about combining cutting-edge technologies into new designs. We put an emphasis on innovation with added value.”
With this in mind, IQIP is investing heavily in its research and development (R&D) department. Having created a decommissioning roadmap, the team is proactively gathering market and technology information and pooling this into the creation of new products. In doing so, significant time and cost savings can be achieved.
“Our aim is to ensure we’re staying one step ahead of market demand,” says Peter Wempe. “Following the successful completion of each project, we continuously integrate the lessons we have learned. For example, at the current time, we’re doing a lot of subsea movements to remove a pile. However, every movement requires a different function. Our solution is to instead have one tool that contains multiple functionalities.”
Case study – YME (North Sea)
One of IQIP’s recent successes was for Allseas on the redundant YME production platform. IQIP provided an internal lifting tool (ILT) that was used to install a cutting device inside the three legs of the platform. The topside was then removed in a single piece by Allseas’ recently commissioned heavy-lift vessel PIONEERING SPIRIT – its first decommissioning lift.
“ I think IQIP was chosen because our ILT can (dis)connect rapidly without human intervention,” says Peter Wempe. “This makes it exceptionally safe. The lift itself is based on our failsafe principles, and riggers are located remotely from the object being lifted. This was one of Allsea’s requirements, and we were happy to work with them to mitigate risk, enhance safety and increase efficiency.”
The entire project was completed seamlessly without incurring any downtime. It has also increased IQIP’s reputation for reliability on challenging projects. During the project, IQIP was approached by another customer to remove the remaining legs. Again, the requirement was for a failsafe piece of lifting equipment. IQIP delivered a bespoke ILT, which was customised to project-specific dimensions.
IQIP’s aim is to extend its reach to more challenging waters, such as central and Northern parts of the North Sea. It is here that water depths regularly exceed 50 metres, and weather conditions are harsher. In addition, underwater structures typically become heavier and more complex. However, IQIP already has the studies, equipment and solutions in place to overcome such challenges.
“Our focus is still on the North Sea, but we are now looking to tackle even more challenging projects, in different geographical areas.” concludes Peter Wempe. “In this way, we’re hoping to further distinguish ourselves in the market. Ultimately, we are willing to invest time and effort to make sure we can help our customers globally utilise the right solution. By being involved at an early stage, we can clearly demonstrate the advantages of our equipment.
“We have great experience in this area, especially with regards to lifting, alongside invaluable knowledge from our other core markets. Within Royal IHC as a whole, we have established a decommissioning taskforce, and identified a target group. IQIP will be among the key players in this taskforce, and we are able to provide a full service to customers global in this exciting sector.”