Decommissioning – Installations

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:

Waste Management

Guidance:

The Guidance Notes are intended to help companies understand their liabilities and the process for approval of decommissioning programmes. They have been updated to take account of both the experience gained since 2006 and the relevant decommissioning provisions in the Energy Act 2008.

These Guidance Notes do not yet include requirements of the Marine and Coastal Access Act and Marine Scotland Acts. New BEIS Guidance is pending.

  • IMO Guidelines and Standards for the Removal of Offshore Installations and Structures on the Continental Shelf in the Exclusive Economic Zone 1989

This Guidance Note offers an update to the oil and gas sector on the UK marine planning process with a focus on environmental impact assessments (EIAs) associated with decommissioning activities within a marine plan area.

Consent Needed:

Decommissioning Programme

Approval of the Decommissioning Programme from the regulatory authority is needed.

Section 29 of the Petroleum Act 1998 enables the Secretary of State to serve notices requiring the recipient to submit a costed Decommissioning Programme for his approval at such future time as he may direct. The programme (referred to in the 1998 Act as an “abandonment programme”) should contain the measures proposed to be taken in connection with the decommissioning of an installation or pipeline. Equivalent Notices previously served under section 1 of the 1987 Act will continue to be valid.

Other Consents and Permits

Marine and Coastal Access or Marine Scotland Act Licence is required for all decommissioning operations and most operations will include a range of activities requiring licences. Operators will be able to apply for licences for individual activities, or to apply for licences to cover a range of activities.

A Chemical Permit under the Offshore Chemical Regulations 2002 is also required for the use or discharge of any chemical during decommissioning.

The existing OPPC field permit for the platform may be used to discharge/re-inject materials containing oil. If this permit has ended then a term permit will be required from the Oil Pollution Prevention and Control Regulations (OPPC) (see Produced Water or Produced Sand/Scale).

Decommissioning activity may be incorporated into existing OPEP or a decommissioning OPEP produced (see Oil Pollution Emergency Planning).

If the coral Lophelia pertusa is present on an installation located outside territorial waters that is being transported to the UK or elsewhere, a CITES certificate will be required from Defra.

A Marine and Coastal Access or Marine Scotland Act Licence is required for deposit of stabilisation or protection materials related to decommissioning operations (see Decommissioning Deposits).

A Wildlife Licence (see Performance Standards tab) may be required, depending on specific decommissioning activities being undertaken.

Additional authorisations for radioactive related issues may be required, depending on specific decommissioning activities being undertaken (see LSA and Radioactive Waste).

There are specific requirements around navigation issues under the Coast Protection Act – see Decommissioning – Navigation.

Operations Notice 6: Reporting of Offshore Installation Movements

Offshore Safety Directive Regulator (OSDR) has issued an updated version of Operations Notice 6. This replaces the previous version which was issued by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The update provides guidance for reporting of offshore installation movements and has been revised to update contact address details and to account for legislative changes (e.g. EU Directive 2013/30 on safety of offshore oil and gas operations).

How to Apply: Subsequent to the submission of draft copies of the Decommissioning Programme and the associated periods of consultation, six copies of the final draft copy of the Decommissioning Programme should be sent to BEIS. If applying for a derogation then BEIS will advise on the subsequent steps needed for consultation with OSPAR parties. In addition to the Decommissioning Programme, Operators must apply for new (and/or vary/surrender existing) permits/consents following the specific procedures for the individual permits/consents.The application process for licences under the MCAA and MSA is not yet known. BEIS guidance has been drafted and is awaiting issue.
Who to Apply to: Documents should be marked for the attention of the Head of the Offshore Decommissioning Unit and be addressed to:The Department of Energy and Climate Change
Atholl House
86-88 Guild Street
Aberdeen AB11 6ARIt is BEIS’s intention that applications will eventually be administered through the UK Oil Portal. In addition to the Decommissioning Unit, Operators must apply to the relevant departments/organisations for new or variations to/surrender of existing permits/consents.The application process for licences under the MCAA and MSA is not yet known. BEIS guidance has been drafted and is awaiting issue. Any queries in the meantime should be direct to BEIS Oil & Gas Environmental Management Team by email to emt@decc.gsi.gov.uk
When to Apply: Discussions should commence well ahead of forecast cessation of operations. In the case of a large field with multi-facilities this may be three years or more in advance.See: “Timing of Preparation of Decommissioning Programme” under the Performance Standards tab.The application process for licences under the MCAA and MSA is not yet known.
OSPAR Recommendation 2006/05: The Cuttings Pile Management Regime as set out by OSPAR Recommendation 2006/05 is divided into two stages. Stage 1 involves initial screening of all cuttings piles. This should be completed by June 2008. The Recommendation outlines the following for Stage 1:

  • Contracting Parties should require that all cuttings piles are screened, using existing information and relevant research, to identify those that require further investigation.
  • Where water-based drilling fluids were used and no other discharges have contaminated the cuttings pile, no further investigation is necessary.
  • Where organic-phase drilling fluids (OPF) were used and discharged or other discharges have contaminated the cuttings pile, the following process should be completed:
    • Contracting Parties should require that the rate of oil loss and the persistence over the area of seabed contaminated are assessed using existing evidence where this is sufficient to carry out this process, and undertaking the relevant research where more information is needed.
    • The rate of oil loss should be assessed on the basis of the quantity of oil lost from the cuttings pile to the water column over time. The unit used should be tonnes per year (tonnes/yr).
    • The persistence should be assessed on the basis of the area of the seabed where the concentration of oil remains above 50 mg/kg and the duration that this contamination level remains. The unit used should be square kilometre years (km2yrs).
  • The results of this process should be compared against the following thresholds:
    • Rate of oil loss to water column: 10 tonnes/yr.
    • Persistence over the area of seabed contaminated: 500 km2 year (note: a persistence of 500 km2yr could mean an area of 1km2 is contaminated for 500 years or an area of 500 km2 is contaminated for 1 year).
  • Where both the rate and persistence are BELOW the thresholds and no other discharges have contaminated the cuttings pile, no further action is necessary and the cuttings pile may be left in situ to degrade naturally.
  • Where either the rate of oil loss or the persistence are ABOVE the thresholds, stage 2 should be initiated at a time to be determined by the Contracting Party, taking into account the rate of oil loss, the persistence over the area of seabed contaminated and the timing of the decommissioning of the associated installation.

Stage 2 involves a BAT and/or BEP assessment and should, where applicable, be carried out in the time frame determined in Stage 1.

Requirement to Remove:

Under the terms of Decision 98/3, which entered into force on 9 February 1999, there is a prohibition on the dumping and leaving wholly or partly in place of offshore installations. The topsides of all installations must be returned to shore. There is a presumption in favour of land disposal and all installations with a jacket weight less than 10,000 tonnes must be completely removed to shore.

The Decision recognises that there may be difficulty in removing the ‘footings’ of large steel jackets weighing more than 10,000 tonnes and in removing concrete installations. As a result, there are derogations possibly available from the main rule for these categories of installations. It has been agreed that these cases should be considered individually to see whether it might be appropriate to leave the footings of large steel installations or concrete structures in place. Nevertheless, there is a presumption that they will all be removed entirely and exceptions to that rule will only be granted if the assessment and consultation procedure which forms part of the OSPAR Decision shows that there are significant reasons why an alternative disposal option is preferable to reuse or recycling or final disposal on land. Any installations that were positioned after 9 February 1999 must be completely removed.

The Revised Guidance Notes on the Decommissioning of Offshore Oil and Gas Installations and Pipelines provide guidance on the decommissioning requirements which apply, in accordance with the requirements of the OSPAR Decision 98/3, to the various types of installation located on the UKCS.

Habitats Directive and Birds Directive: BEIS is obliged to take proper account of the obligations stemming from the Birds and Habitats Directives to protect and conserve the marine environment. A number of offshore sites have been designated as draft or possible SACs (see JNCC website).Where the Secretary of State considers that there may be a significant effect on the conservation objectives, they may require a Habitats Regulatory Assessment to be undertaken.If this is the case, JNCC will recommend that, as competent authority, BEIS undertakes a screening for Habitats Regulatory Assessment (SHRA) or a full Habitats Regulatory Assessment (HRA). The ES or drilling permit (DRA) should contain adequate information to enable BEIS to undertake the assessment. EU Guidance on Habitats Regulatory Assessment (PDF document) can provide guidance on the process, in particular Annex 2.
Assessment of Disturbance of Marine European Protected Species: Under the Offshore Marine Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 2009 (as amended), a person is guilty of an offence if he:

  • deliberately captures, injures, or kills any wild animal of a European protected species, or
  • deliberately disturbs wild animals of any such species.

Disturbance of animals includes in particular any disturbance which is likely to:

(a) impair their ability:

  • to survive, to breed or reproduce, or to rear or nurture their young, or
  • in the case of animals of a hibernating or migratory species, to hibernate or migrate, or

(b) to affect significantly the local distribution or abundance of the species to which they belong.

Marine European Protected Species (EPS) includes all species of cetaceans, all species of marine turtles and sturgeon.

The onus is on the developer carrying out an activity to:

  1. Assess the likelihood of committing a disturbance offence
  2. Consider the need for mitigation measures
  3. Decide whether to apply for a Wildlife Licence.

A description of the assessment of the likelihood of committing a disturbance offence must be included in the PON14A application. Guidance on undertaking such an assessment is included in the JNCCs. The protection of marine European Protected Species from injury and disturbance for England, Wales and the UK offshore marine area. This document is currently being updated by the JNCC and a link will be provided once the document is released.

Wildlife Licences: If there is a risk which cannot be removed or sufficiently reduced by the taking of mitigation measures then a Wildlife Licence may be required to be granted by the regulatory authorities for a number of “purposes”. Purposes include “over-riding public interest” and “scientific and educational purposes”. Licences can however only be issued where there is no satisfactory alternative. It is expected that the majority of activities will not require a Wildlife Licence since their potential for disturbance will fall below the threshold of the office in the Regulations. More information can be obtained from the JNCC website.

Revisions to wildlife licenses effective from 1 January 2015 (England only)

Changes to general and class licence updates have been implemented after Natural England’s public consultation in 2014. From 1 January 2015, a licensee must make sure that they are operating under the conditions of these updated licences (as detailed here). 

Public Participation Directive: The Public Participation Directive (PPD) requires a number of aspects of public notification and consultation:

    • An outline of main alternatives (if any) should be included in permit applications
    • The public should be notified and made aware of any decisions making available relevant consents and permits with the reasons and considerations on which decisions have been based
    • Public notification at the earliest possible time where the information can be provided on the nature of possible decisions
    • Making available within time frames the necessary reports, advice issued to the regulator in accordance with legislation when applications were made and information relevant to a decision which only became available after advertisement of an application
Timing of Preparation of Decommissioning Programme: Discussions should commence well ahead of forecast cessation of operations. In the case of a large field with multi-facilities this may be three years or more in advance.At a mutually agreed time, following preliminary discussions, the operator should submit to BEIS 23 copies of a first draft of a Decommissioning Programme. Copies of the draft programme will be distributed by BEIS to other Government Departments and Agencies. Submission in CD ROM form is the preferred method, although one paper copy will also be required. Four paper copies will be required when the holders of Section 29 notices are directed formally to submit the Decommissioning Programme. At the same time BEIS will agree with the Operator a timetable for considering the draft programme and submitting it for approval by the Secretary of State.  BEIS will use its best endeavours to complete the consideration of the draft Decommissioning Programme within 10 weeks. The Offshore Decommissioning Unit will act as a one-stop-shop, co-ordinate all comments on the draft and submit a written response to the operator. Further meetings with Government Departments may be necessary at this stage to discuss whether additional information and amendments to the draft programme may be required.It is important that sufficient time is allowed for the proper consideration of the proposals in a Decommissioning Programme. In the majority of cases only one draft of the Decommissioning Programme will be necessary. However in those cases involving installations that are candidates for derogation under OSPAR Decision 98/3 it is likely that more than one draft will be required.For derogation cases, BEIS will still aim to comment on the consultation draft of the decommissioning programme within 10 weeks. However, given the complexities of a derogation case this process may take longer to complete. At the same time as submitting the draft to BEIS, the Operator should commence statutory consultations and announce the proposals in the Press and on the Internet. The outcome of these consultations should be reviewed with BEIS and details included in a post consultation draft of the decommissioning programme along with any comments received from BEIS in response to the Government consideration of the draft. Having received the updated draft of the decommissioning programme BEIS should be satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to initiate consultations with other OSPAR Contracting Parties on the intention to issue a permit allowing derogation from the terms of OSPAR Decision 98/3. When submitting the Decommissioning Programme for approval, the outcome of the OSPAR process should be reflected in the document.
Consultations: At the point at which the draft Decommissioning Programme is submitted to the BEIS, the Operator should commence statutory consultations as required under section 29(3) of the Petroleum Act 1998. These consultations will be with the representatives of those parties who may be affected by the decommissioning proposals such as the fishing industry. Details of the statutory consultees will be specified in a notice/letter issued under Section 29 of the Act. A list of the parties normally included is provided in an annex of the BEIS Decommissioning Guidance (see the Guidance section under the Legislation tab). The Statutory Consultees should normally be given 30 days in which to comment. The operator will also be asked to announce its proposals by placing a public notice in appropriate national and local newspapers and journals and to place details on the Internet. This notice should indicate where copies of the draft Decommissioning Programme can be viewed and to whom representations should be submitted. A standard form of notice including appropriate publications can be provided by BEIS. Hard copies of the draft programme should be made available at the Operator’s offices and a copy can be placed on the Internet. At the same time BEIS will indicate on its website that the Decommissioning Programme has been issued for consultation. The results of consultations should be reviewed with BEIS and reported in the Decommissioning Programme when it is submitted for approval. This can be best achieved by appending to the programme the correspondence with interested parties and by indicating the extent to which their views have been taken into account. In the more complex cases, which require assessment in accordance with the procedures set out in OSPAR Decision 98/3 (i.e. where whole or part of the installation is to be left in place), operators will need to develop and manage a wide-ranging public consultation process. The form and timing of this process should be discussed with BEIS. Such a process may take up to 12 months, and should commence at an early stage. If this in turn leads to a decision to seek a derogation under the OSPAR Decision, it will be necessary for BEIS to consult the other OSPAR Contracting Parties. Annex 3 to the Decision sets out the required consultation process, which may take up to eight months to complete. BEIS will be responsible for submitting the case for derogation to the OSPAR Secretariat but the Operator will be asked to prepare a document that supports this case. The contents of this derogation document should be discussed with BEIS. It should be based on the draft decommissioning programme, but should only contain those factors that are relevant to the derogation case. Preparation of the derogation document would normally commence at the time of submission of the post statutory consultation draft of the decommissioning programme.  Sufficient copies will be required for distribution to all of the OSPAR Contracting Parties.
Content of the Decommissioning Programme: A Decommissioning Programme will typically contain the following sections:Section 1 – Introduction
Section 2 – Executive Summary
Section 3 – Background Information
Section 4 – Description of Items to be Decommissioned
Section 5 – Inventory of Materials
Section 6 – Removal and Disposal Options
Section 7 – Selected Removal and Disposal Option
Section 8 – Wells
Section 9 – Drill Cuttings
Section 10 – Environmental Impact Assessment
Section 11 – Interested Party Consultations
Section 12 – Costs
Section 13 – Schedule
Section 14 – Project Management and Verification
Section 15 – Debris Clearance
Section 16 – Post Decommissioning Monitoring and Maintenance
Section 17 – Supporting Studies
Section 18 – Structure of Combined Decommissioning Programmes
Treating, keeping and disposing of waste: The Environment Agency (in England and Wales) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (in Scotland) are responsible for administering and enforcing the waste management controls. Anyone who deposits, recovers or disposes of waste must do so in compliance with the conditions of a waste management licence, or within the terms of an exemption from licensing, and in a way which does not cause pollution of the environment or harm to human health. Any Operator planning to carry out any decommissioning or an associated activity involving waste should contact the relevant Agency. The Agencies are finalising separate guidance for industry on the treating, keeping and disposing of wastes at the decommissioning stage. This guidance will be available from the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. The disposal of materials onshore must comply with the relevant pollution prevention and waste requirements (see Handling Waste Offshore, Transfer Special/Hazardous Waste, Transfer Controlled Waste, and Waste Disposal). Movements of waste from the UKCS to other Member States and Non-Member States are deemed to be a transboundary movement and are therefore subject to transfrontier regulations (see Waste –and Transhipment of Waste).
Navigation and Marking of Remains (where installation left partly or wholly in place): There are specific requirements for Hydrographic Office notifications and marking of remains – see Decommissioning – Navigation.
Pre-decommissioning survey requirements: Surveys around an installation to establish an environmental baseline may need to be undertaken before decommissioning if relatively recent survey data does not already exist. It should be noted that existing or proposed baseline surveys should be comparable to those requirements for post decommissioning environmental seabed sampling surveys (see below).Precise survey requirements will differ according to individual conditions.  Discussions on what may be required in an individual case should be held with BEIS’s Offshore Decommissioning Unit before an Operator develops this part of the survey strategy. All survey requirements should be fully understood before any pre-decommissioning surveys are scoped. Surveys should generate the data required to support assessment of any drill cuttings piles present and should also include provisions to identify the presence of the cold water coral Lophelia pertusa (including its presence on the installation substructure) and the reef forming work Saballaria. It is also prudent to use pre-decommissioning surveys to identify the amount of marine growth present on the installation substructure as this will inform the removal/disposal strategy for decommissioning.
Where the installation has been completely removed: Upon completion of decommissioning operations, appropriate surveys should be undertaken to identify and recover any debris located on the seabed, which has arisen from the decommissioning operation or from past development and production activity. The area to be covered is likely to vary from case to case but the minimum required will be a radius of 500 metres around the location of the installation or any remains.Following the removal of any debris, independent verification of seabed clearance should be obtained. The usual method of achieving this is to engage a fishing vessel to carry out a trawl of the area and to issue a certificate of seabed clearance. Any debris removal activities and any subsequent trawl of the area will need to take account of the presence of drill cuttings.In addition to debris surveys, a post-decommissioning environmental seabed sampling survey should be undertaken to monitor levels of hydrocarbons, heavy metals and other contaminants in sediments and biota.A survey strategy should be developed in consultation with BEIS who will in turn take advice from other Government Departments and Agencies with an interest such as the Fishery Departments. Details of the survey strategy should be included in the Decommissioning Programme.In most cases a second survey will need to be carried out at some time after the post-decommissioning survey. Any further surveys will depend on the results of earlier survey work and the circumstances of each case.
Where installation is left partly or wholly in situ: In addition to the debris clearance and environmental survey requirements described above, where installations are left partly or wholly in situ, additional monitoring requirements will be required as described below.If it is agreed that a concrete installation or the ‘footings’ of a steel installation should be left in place the condition of the remains will have to be monitored at appropriate intervals by the owners. A suitable monitoring regime should be agreed with DECC who will consult with other interested Government Departments and Agencies. Details of the monitoring regime should be specified in the Decommissioning Programme.The form and duration of the monitoring programme will depend upon the particular circumstances and if necessary will be adapted with time.In accordance with Annex 4 to the OSPAR Decision (which sets out the conditions to be attached to any permits granted in accordance with the Decision), the first step in any monitoring programme has to be undertaken before decommissioning operations begin. Annex 4 requires independent verification that the condition of the installation before the disposal operation commences is consistent with both the terms of the Secretary of State’s approval and the information upon which the assessment of the proposed disposal is based. This will include details of the fate of any hazardous substances. The approach to this requirement will be addressed on a case by case basis. It will be for the Operator to propose a suitable organisation to carry out the independent verification.For any remaining structures, certain aspects of the IMO Guidelines and Standards will still be relevant:

  • Any disused installation or structure, or part thereof, which protudes above the surface of the sea, should be adequately maintained.
  • An unobstructed water column of at least 55 metres must be provided above the remains of any partially removed installation to ensure safety of navigation.
  • The position, surveyed depth and dimensions of any installation not entirely removed should be indicated on nautical charts and any remains, where necessary, properly marked with aids to navigation.
  • The person responsible for maintaining any aids to navigation and for monitoring the condition of any remaining material should be identified.
  • The liability for meeting any claims for damages, which may arise in the future, should be clear.
Close Out Report: At the conclusion of decommissioning operations, the Operator will be required to satisfy BEIS that the approved Decommissioning Programme has been implemented. This will involve the submission of a close out report within four months of the completion of offshore work. This report will include results of the debris clearance and post decommissioning surveys.The report should explain major variations from the decommissioning programme and should summarise the following:

  • Information on the outcome of the decommissioning programme as a whole.
  • An explanation of any major variances from the programme.
  • The results of debris clearance and any monitoring undertaken. Any independent verification (e.g. seabed clearance certificates) should be attached.
  • The results of the post-decommissioning environmental sampling survey. If necessary update the schedule for future environmental monitoring or monitoring of items left in place with reasons for the changes.
  • Measures taken to manage the potential risks arising from any legacies, including participation in the Fisheries Legacy Trust Company, confirmation of marking any remains on mariners charts, inclusion in the ‘Fishsafe’ system and installation of navigational aids.
  • Provide high level summary of actual costs and a general explanation of any difference against forecast costs.

Following the submission of the Close-out Report to BEIS, the Operator will be asked to place a copy on their website.

Where Installation is Left Partly or Wholly In Situ: Inspection reports (as agreed with BEIS) should be submitted to BEIS Offshore Decommissioning Unit, together with proposals for any maintenance or remedial work that may be required.
Other Reporting: In addition to the Decommissioning Programme Close Out Report, Operators must report as required by other permits/consents and legislative requirements, e.g. covering such issues as waste reporting, seabed deposits, chemical use and discharge, oil discharges, radioactive substances, oil and chemical spills, etc., following the specific procedures for the individual permits/consents and relevant legislation.
Offshore Inspection: The BEIS (then DECC) Offshore Oil and Gas Environment Unit Enforcement Policy (PDF document) sets out the general principles that Inspectors shall follow in relation to enforcement including prosecution.
Marine and Coastal Access Act and Marine (Scotland) Act: Licences will be valid for a maximum period of one year, but operators will be able to apply to renew licences that cover a range of activities.
Ongoing Monitoring & Surveys: There may be a requirement to conduct further environmental seabed surveys following the decommissioning of the installation.Where an installation has been left in situ there is a requirement to undertake a monitoring programme.
None known at present.
Alignment for Decom North Sea and Oil and Gas UK UK offshore oil and gas industry trade bodies Oil & Gas UK and Decom North Sea are to align on key areas to deliver a more efficient and effective decommissioning agenda for the North Sea. More information available here.
Decommissioning Delivery Programme This programme focuses on three key priorities:

  • Cost certainty and reduction
  • Decommissioning delivery capability
  • Decommissioning scope, guidance and stakeholder engagement.
Decommissioning workshop outputs are now available on the OGA website Decommissioning workshop outputs are now available on the OGA website. Themes include delivering capability and decommissioning scope and practice.
Growing market for Decommissioning in Norway Growing market for Decommissioning in Norway evident from Oil and Gas UK forecast (link here)
OGA Decommissioning Strategy The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has published its Decommissioning Strategy, the first of a series of strategies that it plans to issue. Further details are available here.
Stakeholder Engagement during Decommissioning Activities: In April 2013 Oil & Gas UK produced updated guidelines for stakeholder engagement during decommissioning activities. The guidelines were first published in 2006 but have been updated to reflect experience in recent decommissioning projects.
Topsides Cleaning: Experience to date highlights the advantage of commencing cleaning operations early in the decommissioning process. In addition to cleaning hydrocarbons, reasonable endeavours to remove wax and other contaminants, particularly where a line is to be decommissioned in place, will be expected. Guidance on cleaning topsides and pipelines prior to decommissioning has been developed through the Pilot Brownfields Initiative. This is available from Oil & Gas UK.
 Use of Explosives:  JNCC Guidance on Use of Explosives (PDF document) includes a series of mitigation measures to be considered and agreed:

  • Visual Monitoring by Marine Mammal Observers
  • Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM)
  • Use of PAM as mitigation
  • Pre-detonation search for marine mammals
  • Delay of 30 minutes if a marine mammal is detected within the Mitigation Zone
  • Sequencing of the explosive charges
  • Acoustic Deterrent Devices (ADDs)
  • Post-detonation search
  • Communication