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Greenpeace Activists Protest Brent Decommissioning Plans

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Image courtesy Greenpeace

By The Maritime Executive 10-14-2019 09:54:13

On Monday, Greenpeace activists climbed the remains of the Brent Bravo production platform in protest of Shell's plan to abandon four platform jackets - and the oily waste they contain. The topsides platform for Brent Bravo has already been carried away by Allseas' Pioneering Spirit, a giant vessel designed to pick up entire topsides structures in a single lift for removal. 

In theory, Shell is required to remove the structures under the terms of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (OSPAR), according to Greenpeace. However, Shell has asked the British government for an exemption in order to leave jacket elements for the Brent oil platforms in place. The jackets contain a total of around 640,000 cubic meters of oily water and 40,000 cubic meters of oily sediment.

“Shell’s plans are a scandal and go against international agreements to protect the environment . . . Abandoning thousands of tonnes of oil in aging concrete will sooner or later pollute the sea,” said Dr. Christian Bussau, Greenpeace campaigner with the mission. “We urge OSPAR governments to protect the ocean and not cave in to corporate pressure.”

The platform's jacket designs are emblematic of early offshore oil and gas development in the North Sea. They are gravity-based structures (GBS) - massive reinforced concrete pedestals weighing about 300,000 tonnes, with giant oil storage cells at the bottom and long legs up to the surface. These structures were built at inshore yards, then towed out and sunk in place as complete assemblies. The storage cells still contain residual amounts of oily waste, which would remain after decommissioning.

“Oil in the base of Shell’s platforms will reach the sea as the concrete structures rot and collapse. Shell’s plans leave a ticking time bomb and that is totally irresponsible,” said Bussau.

However, attempting to remove the platforms could be worse, according to Shell. The company says that its studies show that refloating the gravity based structures - which were never designed to be removed - would be "extremely difficult" and could cause them to collapse. 

"[Refloating has] technically an extremely high risk of failure, and also a very high safety risk, far higher than we would accept in any other part of our operations," said Alasdair Hope, Brent decommissioning project director, in a 2016 video about the project.