• What Happens When An Oil Rig Retires?

Fuel for Thought

What Happens When An Oil Rig Retires?

Oct 07 2014

Not only are oil rigs enormous, they’re built to withstand massive force. Naturally, while scale and fortitude are positive qualities during an oil rig’s lifespan, once an oil rig ceases to be useful, several problems arise regarding its disassembly or demolition.

If you’re not familiar with oil rigs, read this article now: What Is Offshore Drilling?

Green Peace and the case of Brent Spar

During the 1990s, energy giant Shell decided that its 14,500 tonne North Sea oil platform, Brent Spa, was no longer of any use. Subsequently, Shell sought and received UK government approval to sink the vast platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Hearing of Shell’s plans, environmental activist network Green Peace, who oppose ocean dumping on the grounds that it is dangerous and irresponsible, occupied the Brent Spar platform, publicising Shell’s intentions and gaining wide-spread support. In Germany alone, many Shell petrol stations suffered a 50% decrease in sales, while public resistance to the dump increased across Europe. In response, Shell was forced to reverse its decision, agreeing to dismantle and dispose of the platform on land, and setting a new precedent for a more ecologically accountable approach to the decommissioning of offshore oil platforms.

What to do with decommissioned oil rigs?

Dismantling and disposing of oil rigs on land is costly and time consuming, therefore other uses for retired oil rigs have been found, none of which require expensive transportation or arduous disassembly. In 2009, for example, architectural firm Morris Architects suggested retired oil rigs could be transformed into stunning holiday destinations. Large enough to house luxurious facilities and accommodation, oil rigs may yet play host to travellers hungry for a true taste of the ocean.

A pair of imaginative Malaysian architects named Ku Yee Kee and Hor Sue Wern suggested ex-oil rigs be converted into spacious apartments. Their award-winning designs include eco-friendly wind turbines and expansive underwater regions devoted to aquatic research. Those living on the rigs would work and play at sea, contributing to an offshore economy invested in conserving sub-aquatic environments and marine wildlife.

Meanwhile, a retired jack-up drilling rig titled Offshore Energy Centre, which is situated just an hour from Texas, has been successfully converted into a museum. Visitors are encouraged to engage with educational exhibits, stay overnight, and purchase oil-based gifts for their friends and family.

Finally, a retired oil rig found between the Philippines, Indonesia and Borneo has been adapted to the needs of divers. Now known as “Seaventures”, the rig offers overnight accommodation and unparalleled diving experiences to visitors from around the world.

So, while oil rigs aren’t exactly famed for their versatility, options aside from controversial sea dumping do exist. As the general public becomes more ecologically aware, the usefulness of retired oil rigs may be reassessed, and we may witness the birth of a new, ex-oil rig industry. While Green Peace helped bring the question of what to do with retired oil rigs to the fore, it is designers, architects and big businesses that are currently providing us with the sorts of answers and solutions we require. 

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