Building capacity

May 1, 2017

Yards are actively building capacity for onshore removals as North Sea decommissioning starts to pick up pace. Elaine Maslin reports.

Taking aim at Yme: Pioneering Spirit.
Photo from Allseas.

Decommissioning isn’t an activity usually associated with investment. The less spent the better, as far as oilfield operators are concerned.

However, what appears to be the tentative arrival of a sizable offshore decommissioning market has spurred many contractors into investment in onshore facilities for dismantling and disposal activities.

Even the Scottish government is seeing the opportunity, offering a US$6.29 million (£5 million) Decommissioning Challenge Fund (DCF) to support infrastructure upgrades and innovation in salvage and transport methods at Scotland’s ports and harbors.

According to Wood Mackenzie, the total future decommissioning spend for the UK Continental Shelf alone is an estimated US$66 billion (£53 billion) in 2016 terms. In the short-term, some 140 fields are expected to cease production – in the UK alone – over the next five years.


Topsides will come ashore in a number of forms. One is via the Pioneering Spirit a single lift vessel, which carried out its first job last year, lifting out the 13,500-tonne Yme topsides offshore Norway and transporting them to a newly developed dismantling yard at Lutelandet, Norway.

Able UK at Hartlepool has invested in its quayside so that it’s able to receive the 24,000-tonne Brent Delta topsides this year (Read: Delta day arrives), such is the step up in size that Pioneering Spirit offers.

There are also plenty of smaller facilities that could be lifted out in one go and taken to smaller shore facilities by a growing fleet of smaller vessels, however. And piece small work is also an option.

The 25,000-tonne Murchison topsides in the UK North Sea, for example, was removed in 26 lifts and five vessels transits by Heerema Marine Contractors from the UK North Sea field to AF Gruppen’s facility at Vats, Norway.

Of the approximately 600 platforms in the Northwest Europe – including Norway, UK, Denmark, Netherlands, and Germany – about half have topsides weighing under 1600-tonne, according to an Oil & Gas UK database. The first offshore facilities to be decommissioned in Great Yarmouth, out of which the UK’s oil and gas industry started, will be of this small type. These are due to arrive in Spring, under a contract to a partnership between Veolia and Peterson. While the facilities haven’t been named, the partners said they will entail a number of production complex and satellite platforms from the southern gas basin, 40mi offshore Great Yarmouth.

The Great Yarmouth partnership, just like a growing number of others, is seeking to use this first contract as a springboard to becoming a “center of decommissioning excellence,” i.e. winning more work. Some are entirely new facilities, like Lutelandet.

New sites

Once home to the construction of one of the largest North Sea facilities, Ninian Central in the 1970s, Kishorn’s huge 160m-diameter drydock has been dormant for decades. Now, work has started to reinstate the facility on Scotland’s west coast.

A contract was awarded in early January to Harris Pye, a Welsh marine engineering firm, to trial the hollow concrete dock gates (weighing 13,000-tonne each) and fabricate new gate seals and culvert tube covers, which will enable the dry dock to be pumped dry – a feat that will take four days.

The project is being led by Kishorn Port Ltd. (KPL), a joint venture between Ferguson Transport & Shipping and Leiths (Scotland). The yard will still need to gain a license for handling decommissioning projects and build shore-side facilities.

In Norway, a new player has emerged, Lutelandet Offshore. It is already working with Veolia to decommission the Yme platform for Talisman, delivered to its site by Pioneering Spirit last year.

The firm has been building a completely new site with a deepwater quay at Lutelandet, on the west coast of Norway. The firm, set up in 2009 to do decommissioning and inspection, repair and maintenance work, says the site, including offices and accommodation, will cover 346 acres (14 million sq m) with deepwater quays, a finger pier and dry dock.

It has a 150m minimum deepwater approach; all quays (stretching out 630m in two directions) are at least 21m deep, with potential for up to 40m.

DSM Demolition, a Birmingham-based firm that used to decommissioning steel structures onshore, has plans for a site in the Orkney Islands, north of mainland Scotland.

The firm was due to submit a planning application for its proposed facility at Lyness, on the east coast of the island of Hoy in 2016, and start operating in 2018 .

Late December, Aberdeen Harbour’s plans to expand its facilities into Nigg Bay south of the existing harbor was sanctioned by the Harbour Board. The facilities will not just be for decommissioning, with the Harbour Board targeting a range of activities. However, this does include “up-scaled decommissioning activity.”

The $434.9 million (£350 million) project is being built by Dragados UK, part of Spain’s ACS Group, starting early this year, with completion scheduled for 2020. The facilities, in Nigg Bay, will include 1400m of new quay, with water depth of up to 10.5m, and will create an additional 125,000sq m of lay-down area.

Quay 6 at Able Seaton Port. Photo from Able.


Able UK, near Hartlepool, in northeast England, invested $35 million (£28 million) in a new quay with skid plates for heavy load-ins so that it could win the Brent field facilities decommissioning work.

The new quay - Quay 6 - at Able Seaton Port covers 60m x 120m with 45-tonne/sq m loading capacity, or 60,000-tonne in total, making it one of the heaviest load out quays in Europe. This was achieved through the installation of some 1242 piles, weighing almost 10,500-tonne, plus 4500-tonne of steel reinforcement and 40,000cu m of concrete. The Brent Delta facility is due to be landed here this month (May) and is expected to take 12 months to dismantle and remove.

Uniquely, the Seaton Port site is also home to the former BP North West Hutton living quarters, which were converted under a $1.2 million (£1 million) refurbishment project into modern office facilities, housed on self-propelled modular transporters, so it can be moved anywhere on site, according to project requirements.

Able acquired the facility as part of a contract to decommission the North West Hutton 20,000-tonne topsides and 10,000-tonne jacket, a project completed in 2011. The module support frame from North West Hutton is being used as a test lift structure by Allseas.


Forth Ports Authority unveiled a $12.4 million (£10 million) investment to create a new quayside with “industry-leading” heavy-lift capability. The investment will see the development of the quayside at the east end of the port, connecting to the existing Prince Charles Wharf.

The quayside will offer heavy lift capability over its entire 200m length (80-tonne/sq m loading capability) with an ultra-heavy lift pad at one end. Coupled with a deepwater berth and 60 acres of land, the investment will enable the port to handle the largest cargoes used in the emerging North Sea industry sectors, says Forth Ports.

Southbay Civil Engineering started work on the site in February and this is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Forth Ports also has a partnership with Augean to offer decommissioning waste management at the port, with a new facility opening at the same time as the new quayside.


Since 2012, Montrose, also south of Aberdeen, has invested $18.6 million (£15 million) in three heavy lift pads with a capacity of 15-tonne/sq m and it has also done major upgrades to quays on both the north and south sides of its harbor.


In 2016, Lerwick Harbour completed a $14.9 million (£12 million) project to extend and upgrade its quay at Dales Voe South, more than doubling the quay to 127m, with water depth up to 12.5m and 60-tonne/sq m load bearing capacity. An area behind the quay was also being leveled to create a new lay down area over 40,000sq m. Further plans for an ultra-deepwater quay have been on hold to see how and when the decommissioning industry develops.

At Lerwick’s Greenhead Base, there have also been improvements, to handle load-in operations, with quayside strengthened for heavy lifts. Two new berths are also due to be constructed to create an additional 180m of quayside with 9m water depth, plus a 1000-tonne capacity heavy lift pad.


Norway already has a major player, in AF Gruppen, which last year took in the 26 Murchison topside modules, totaling 25,000-tonne, at its AF Decom Vats sites. The Murchison jacket it due to follow this year. AF Decom was also involved in the Ekofisk cessation project, where nine platforms were disposed.

Kvaerner Stord has also been involved in decommissioning projects, notably the Frigg field, in 2004-2010. The site is owned by Aker Solutions and shared with Scanmet in a cooperation arrangement.

There is also Lutelandet Offshore, mentioned earlier, and Stena Recycling in Stavanger.

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