North Sea decommissioning could be Scotland’s £100 million golden ticket. It’s recently been reported that between now and the mid-2050s, around 470 platforms, 5,000 wells, 10,000km of pipelines and 40,000 concrete blocks will have to be removed from the North Sea. That’s a lot of work requiring a lot of people with the right skills, complemented by the right infrastructure - a fantastic economic and employment opportunity for Scotland.
But decommissioning is not an issue that’s coming down the line, it’s a live one. Wood Mackenzie estimate the decommissioning of the North Sea’s largest fields between now and 2020 could be worth as much as £8 billion and as we have recently seen with the likes of Maersk’s Janice FPU, this highly lucrative market is off and running.
GMB Scotland has been vocal in our concerns about both the UK and Scottish governments’ approaches towards the decommissioning agenda. There has been a political dishonesty about the inevitable decline of the North Sea, even before the slump in oil price. It’s not as if we didn’t know this was coming, evidenced by data from the likes of the HSE in 2008 revealing an estimated 50 per cent of fixed platforms in the UKCS were approaching or beyond their original life design.
It begs the question: Why didn’t government - both UK and Scottish - plan for the future while the sun was shining? We are paying now for this failure as the likes of Norway and Turkey are profiting from the decommissioning of North Sea assets while Scotland looks like it’s not even at the starting blocks in a race that it could and should be leading.
Let’s be clear that decommissioning could significantly boost Scotland’s economy which is dangerously teetering on the brink of another recession. North Sea communities across Aberdeenshire, Fife, the Highlands and Tayside, areas blighted by the double-whammy of austerity and the oil price slump, are crying out for the type of job creation and investment benefits that decommissioning could bring.
Yet while our governments dither and the OGA tries to get its act together (only recently getting around to producing the first stage of its decommissioning strategy after months of secrecy) the likes of Shell are lobbying DECC to wriggle themselves free from the OSPAR obligations, meaning companies could cut and run from the North Sea clean-up largely at the expense of HM Treasury.
Scotland desperately needs political leadership, urgency and vision here.
If we don’t wake-up fast then it could mean the worst of all worlds. A chance to boost our economic prospects gone, an opportunity to rejuvenate working-class communities missed and the taxpayer paying for the environmental clean-up of the North Sea while other countries profit from its decommission at our expense.
This article was originally published in the Energy Voice on August 18 2016