A new research base with the power to transform the UK into a global leader in oilfield demolition opened in a tiny Aberdeenshire village this morning.
The National Decommissioning Centre was unveiled by excited government ministers and key oil and gas industry figures at the souped-up Oceanlab facility in Newburgh.
Supported by the Aberdeen City Region Deal, the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) and Aberdeen University have joined forces to launch the £38 million centre.
Its bosses hope to turn the mammoth engineering challenge of North Sea decommissioning into a “competitive advantage” for Britain.
Disposing of UK North Sea infrastructure is expected to cost almost £60 billion — and taxpayers will have to cover a hefty chunk of that expense.
As the North Sea is the world’s most mature oil region, its infrastructure will have to be scrapped earlier than in other petrol producing nations.
About 100 offshore platforms and 3,500 miles of pipeline must be retired in the next decade alone.
It means there will be plenty of opportunities to develop and test technology capable of taking the sting out of decommissioning costs.
Regulators have set a target of slashing the bill by 35%.
If the UK can perfect the art, positioning itself at the forefront of decommissioning know-how, its skills and products will be in hot demand around the world.
The UK wants to secure as big a slice of the global decommissioning market as possible through exports.
More than £80bn will be spent globally on decommissioning in just the next 10 years, so the prize is huge.
Much of the technology designed for disposing of oil and gas installations can also be applied to renewables.
To help with technology development, the new facility is equipped with an array of contraptions, including one of the UK’s most high-powered lasers for cutting steel underwater.
Also on hand is a chamber for testing materials at extreme temperatures of up to 180 degrees Celsius, and as low as minus 40.
And it boasts a hyperbaric testing vessel that can simulate ocean conditions found at depths in excess of 21,000 ft.
A number of projects are already under way at the centre, which is in “advanced discussions” to attract several “anchor partners” from industry.
Speaking at the launch, Scottish Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the base could “cement the country as the place for decommissioning expertise”.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Lord Duncan described it as a “real and tangible benefit” of the Aberdeen City Region Deal.
When the OGTC was launched in February 2017, it was given £180m worth of city deal cash to invest in developing energy sector technology.
OGTC chief executive Colette Cohen is confident the new initiative will provide access to the “brightest and best academic minds” and help companies “accelerate new technologies that transform mature field management”.
University principal George Boyne added: “By building expertise at all levels we will create competitive advantage for the oil and gas industry, and for decommissioning challenges in the wider energy sector, for example offshore renewables.”