Spotlight: Influencing the decommissioning market

Elaine Maslin

February 11, 2014

Brian Nixon’s career has seen him transition from engineering and project management to international business development in Angola. For the past four years Nixon has lead industry body Decom North Sea.

Nixon (pictured) announced his decision to step down as CEO of Decom North Sea, which he helped form, this past November, and he is now ready to consider new challenges. It is a long way from his days as an apprentice, but it has been an interesting four years, he says, with every day a school day because of the learning involved.

A recent recognition within the sector in the last 6-9 months has perhaps been a surprise to many. “The industry is led by first oil, first gas, the shortest possible shutdowns, fast modifications, and so on,” Nixon says.

“The psyche of the management approval process reflects this. It is geared around a ‘first and earliest’ mindset. Right now, in decommissioning, the situation is the reverse of this.

“The recognition is that current decision processes are just not appropriate for decommissioning. Companies in Aberdeen, at the front edge of deepwater decommissioning, are at the point of going to their Houston headquarters to say ‘we are having to go ahead with this spending and, by the way, your established investment decision processes are no longer fit for purpose.’

“But, operators are coming to us and saying they don’t think they are going to be able to do this internally. It needs to be on an industry platform, so they can go and say ‘it’s not just us, [there are] others’.”

Decom North Sea has now launched a joint industry project to address the issue. Nixon’s career started with an apprenticeship at Babcock and Wilcox, followed by a BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Strathclyde University, 15 years at Motherwell Bridge, and stints at Atlantic Power and Gas, AOC International (which became part of PSN), and Wood Group.

At Wood Group he was seconded to the Angolan embassy, through what is now UK Trade & Industry, to help UK firms win work in the newly oil-rich country.

He was then headhunted by Scotland’s business development organization Scottish Enterprise, with whom he undertook a study of the energy sector, which identified offshore oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning as an under-resourced sector, but with a potential to be a huge industry as the hundreds of facilities offshore the UK, Norway, and Netherlands start to require removal.

In 2009, following 12 months’ consultation with the industry, a recommendation was approved, supported by industry, to form an independent, focused, forum on decommissioning, guided by the industry—Decom North Sea.

Four years later, the body has already had significant achievements. Last year it piloted and launched a standard decommissioning program template.

The new template – drawn up in cooperation with the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) – set out to streamline and standardize the format for decommissioning programs throughout the UK North Sea, whilst still satisfying regulatory requirements.

Decom North Sea is already working on a similar project, among others, to create a model for an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Other ongoing work is looking at well plugging and abandonment (P&A). A recent workshop saw the launch of three new initiatives thought to have serious potential for improvement and innovation in this area, Nixon says.

Decom North Sea has also grown its national and international presence, holding and attending events across the UK, as well as Norway and the Netherlands. Both countries have member companies on the board.

At the start, decommissioning was seen as a very unattractive assignment for oil and gas professionals— someone else’s job,” Nixon says. “Now we are beginning to see a recognition that this is a really exciting 30-40-year career opportunity, with international dimensions, with a huge variety of skills and disciplines.”

Overall, over the last four years, there has been a growing acknowledgement for the need for more innovative thinking and collaboration, Nixon says.