Addressing challenges in Decommissioning: insights from Edward Rowley

Ed Rowley 1

Decommissioning involves high-risk activities, on aging infrastructure, with complex execution both offshore and onshore. Tetra Tech Coffey are joining governments, industry and commercial organisations in the effort to develop long-term decommissioning roadmaps.

Edward Rowley, Tetra Tech Coffey’s Maritime and Offshore Environments Lead talks about minimising risk while working in the decommissioning of major hazard facilities across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific region.

What are some of the major challenges facing decommissioning design for oil and gas clients today?

Cost effective decommissioning is the challenge for industry as there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution. Each project is unique, where complexities arise depending on the type, size and condition of the infrastructure. However, the remoteness of Australia’s offshore (and onshore) installations present significant challenges. Anyone who has worked in this industry understands that in-depth planning is required around logistics, worker safety and project execution.

Compared to other oil and gas activities, end of lifecycle decommissioning is a new frontier for the industry in this part of the world. It’s worth noting that what works elsewhere won’t necessarily translate here in Australia, where the diverse marine ecology and land flora and fauna requires unique planning and coordination to ensure our environment is returned to it’s original (and beautiful) condition.

Tetra Tech are working with our clients and peak bodies, such as the Centre of Decommissioning Australia (CODA) to develop a collaborative and sustainable decommissioning industry.

Managing trailing liability

Another major challenge for industry is the management of trailing liability. Trailing liability is designed to ensure that the costs and liabilities associated with decommissioning an asset are borne by the titleholder. This is to safeguard against titleholders selling off an asset to a third party, that they deemed end-of-life, because the responsibility for decommissioning lies with the titleholder that acquired revenue from the asset.

In the past, this was not considered when assets were built, but titleholders must now take this into consideration as they can be held liable for the safe decommissioning of structures.

Safety is another challenge within the industry, how do you stay safe and well when working in the field?

While the industry pays high regard to the environmental and social impacts of decommissioning, one of the ongoing challenges is ensuring the health and safety of all workers.

Along with extreme weather and ocean conditions and the condition of asset (ageing, and often unstable), workers face key hazards including Hazardous Materials, chemical spills, and biological hazards. These hazards can have serious long-term consequences for workers’ health and well-being, where Occupational Hygiene (Hazmat) considerations are often not well understood and therefore often overlooked.

As part of our internal competency requirements, all Tetra Tech staff have undergone rigorous work health and Templafy Images safety training, PPE Fit Testing and training and other external courses to ensure they can perform their tasks safely and efficiently.

One of the more exhilarating training courses is the ‘Basic offshore safety induction and emergency training’ (BOSIET) at the ERGT Safety Training Centre in Perth, where part of the course is to escape from a simulated helicopter ditching. The BOSIET course is for anyone travelling offshore by helicopter and is a pre-requisite to meet offshore safety and emergency response requirements.

How is Tetra Tech using current and emerging technologies to support decommissioning design for projects?

Tetra Tech focuses on providing our clients with the technology, tools, and innovative solutions to address the challenges to improve safety in the decommissioning industry.

Our team identify key opportunities within the decommissioning space that would benefit from applying innovative approaches and technologies and bringing together specialists from across the Tetra Tech group, both in Australia and globally.

We have engaged with our FusionMap team (part of Tetra Tech Delta), to enhance our services with solutions that combine science and engineering expertise with advanced analytics and technology.

Already we have incorporated FusionMap to consolidate data from diverse sources into a unified platform, along with 3D modelling walk throughs to help navigate and explore from any mobile device.

What are some of the learnings and best practices from Tetra Tech Coffey?

While the size and scale of offshore structures presents challenges, it also provides opportunities through repurposing of infrastructure. Decommissioning does not necessarily entail the complete removal of structures, rather repurposing of existing structures to support renewable energy projects.

Other considerations around waste management include recycling of materials rather than committing them to landfill. For example, materials such as PFAS fire-fighting foam can be treated sufficiently and re-used as dust suppression in road construction. Contributing to the circular economy in this way helps offset the costs and risks of decommissioning, and minimises environmental, social, and economic impacts.

However, this doesn’t come without shortcomings. Reusing infrastructure also poses technical, legal, and regulatory challenges. The Australian offshore oil and gas industry is facing a significant decommissioning portfolio over the coming decades and Tetra Tech Coffey is working with our clients to fully explore the potential for the application of technology and innovation to significantly improve decommissioning outcomes.

Connect with Ed at edward.rowley@tetratech.com

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