Offshore Energies Magazine - Issue 55 Spring 2023

The incoming surge of decommissioning projects is a chance for the UK supply chain to hone expertise and export it to other regions, say Duncan Nevett, Partner, and Nick Tyrie, Technical Assistant, Reddie & Grose. Innovation & patent protection: capitalising on decommissioning

T he extraction of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf cannot be phased out overnight, and hydrocarbons will continue to play a prominent role in the UK’s energy mix for decades. The energy industry’s focus on greener, more sustainable methods of fuelling the nation has led to closer scrutiny of existing assets in the context of a net-zero future. Meanwhile work continues on finding cheaper, more efficient forms of energy production that are less environmentally invasive. Nevertheless, the coming decades will still see a growing need for safely and cleanly decommissioning assets as they reach the end of their life. Presently, this part of a field’s lifecycle tends to be viewed as no more than a major cost burden to operators and contractors. Indeed, OEUK recently predicted that the cost of decommissioning North Sea oil and gas installations will add up to £20bn before the end of 2031, at the cost of £7.8mn/well. This number reflects the intricate complexity of decommissioning a diverse array of infrastructure in challenging and varied environments. It also reflects the cost of competing against the other energy industries in key supply chain areas. For example, the heavy lift vessel (1) market will come under increasing strain as it is pulled between decommissioning programmes and offshore wind installations. The concept of repurposing existing sites for greener initiatives has been cited as an important component on the road to net zero. For example, depleted oil fields have been proposed as a means for storing large amounts of hydrogen as a future greener energy source. Another proposed solution is to repurpose wells with carbon injection and storage technology. However, widespread commercial implementation of both proposals is being inhibited by additional technical challenges and practical complexities that need addressing. It should be noted that the issue of decommissioning is not unique to the UK. Reuters (2) estimates there are

more than 29mn abandoned wells around the world, whose combined methane emissions are 2.5mn tonnes/ yr. This number will only grow in the coming decades as other territories approach the maturity level of the North Sea basin. Matching technology with IP law But can such growing cost burdens be turned into potential profit opportunities, particularly in view of future global decommissioning needs? It would certainly seem possible if the right type of innovation is matched with savvy intellectual property (IP) protection. First and foremost, overcoming the large upfront costs that stand in the way of meeting industry emissions targets will require innovation in terms of finding cheaper, more sustainable methods for plugging or finding new uses for oil and gas wells that "Growing cost burdens can yield potential profit opportunities if the right type of innovation is matched with savvy intellectual property protection."

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