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Removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations
The Commission is evaluating how to protect the environment by reducing pollution from disused offshore oil and gas installations.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 18 February 1998 on removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations [COM(98) 49 final [not published in the official Journal].
The debate about the disposal of redundant offshore oil and gas installations was re-opened in 1995 with the Brent Spar "affair". Shell had decided, with the authorisation of the UK Government, to sink their oil storage buoy Brent Spar at a deep water site in the North Atlantic.
This decision was strongly criticised by the public because of the damage to the marine environment. In the Ministerial Declaration following the North Sea Conference which was being held at the same time, the majority of the Ministers present, with the exception of the UK and Norwegian Ministers, called for a complete ban on the disposal at sea of such installations.
Following a consumer boycott of Shell products in several Member States, the company finally abandoned its plan and decided to dismantle the structure of the installation and reuse the hull as part of a quay extension in Norway. This one-off solution has not however provided a general answer for the 600 other installations of this type in European waters, most of them in British and Norwegian waters.
The disposal of disused installations is due to be discussed again at the Ministerial Meeting of the OSPAR Convention to be held in Portugal in July 1998 (OSPAR: Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft, signed in Oslo on 15 February 1972, succeeded by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, signed in Paris on 9 September 1992).
At the June 1995 North Sea Conference, the Commission stated that it was in favour of recycling and reusing offshore installations. Accordingly the Commission signed the Ministerial Declaration calling for this type of disposal and invited the contracting parties to the Oslo and Paris Conventions to implement this type of disposal by 1997.
At a subsequent meeting, the OSPAR Commission decided on a moratorium on disposal of oil and gas installations at sea pending the adoption of a final decision.
In November 1996 the Commission commissioned a study into the technical, environmental and economic aspects of the removal and disposal of such installations, which reached the following conclusions:
As regards large concrete installations:
- lack of knowledge of the technical aspects of their disposal;
- no need to dispose of them completely from an environmental point of view;
- impossible to estimate the cost of their disposal.
For the remaining installations with steel structures:
- complete disposal is technically feasible;
- it is economically justified;
- it can be undertaken in complete safety;
- the residues of toxic or hazardous substances can be reduced;
- the steel can be recycled on land.
Removal and disposal costs are met by the owners of the installations, i.e. the oil and gas companies. Some of this expenditure is tax deductible. The overall cost of towing all platforms to shore for recycling has been estimated at ECU 2 billion over 25 years, or on average ECU 80 million per year. The impact of such a decision on the overall production costs of oil and gas would in general terms be negligible.
There are many international texts covering disused offshore oil and gas installations, including:
- Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf 1958;
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982;
- London Convention 1972;
- International Maritime Organisation Guidelines and Standards for the Removal of Offshore Installations and Structures on the Continental Shelf 1989;
- Basle Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal 1989;
- Oslo (1972) and Paris (1992) Conventions;
- Helsinki Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment in the Baltic Area 1992;
- Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution 1976.
There is however no specific common legal framework in this area. Moreover, these Conventions deal only with minimum standards. Individual States may impose more stringent conditions.
Current negotiations with a view to adopting specific legislation are being held within OSPAR. As contracting parties to the OSPAR Convention may choose to opt out of decisions taken under it, a consensus is therefore necessary.
A preliminary draft decision has been prepared for the July 1998 meeting.
The advantages of adopting uniform international legislation in this area are as follows:
- removal of the risk of competition resulting from differences in national legislation;
- restrictions on discharges of pollutants from installations;
- reduction in pollution of the marine environment;
- greater safety of navigation.
However, there is still disagreement on the following:
- the very structure of the decision: Norway and the UK favour a general authorisation for disposal at sea combined with a list of installations for which such disposal would be prohibited (prohibition list), while the other States favour a general prohibition of disposal at sea with a list of installations which could be considered for such disposal (reverse list):
- an exception clause which would permit in certain circumstances installations on the prohibition list to also be considered for sea disposal;
- the definition of the technical characteristics of those installations which could be considered for disposal at sea (large steel structures);
- future installations;
- the establishment of a consultation procedure for any proposed permit for disposal at sea (on this subject, unanimous agreement seems possible);
- the question of the criteria for installations that may be considered for disposal at sea.
Commission proposals for the OSPAR negotiations in July 1998:
- adoption of a prohibition of sea disposal of such installations as a general principle (reverse list);
- all disused installations should be dismantled and brought to land for recycling and safe disposal, with the exception of certain installations authorised on a case by case basis;
- large installations cannot be dismantled on land as there are currently no technologies to do this;
- establishment of consultation procedures with contracting parties and interested organisations for installations which have to be disposed of at sea;
- installations put into service after 1 January 1998 must be completely removed and recycled on land when they are decommissioned, insofar as such an operation is feasible and can be carried out in complete safety
- adoption of a clause providing for a regular review of the decision to take account of scientific and technological advances;
- clear indication of responsibilities for installations on the sea bed, to determine who bears the financial consequences of any future damage caused by those installations.