Peter Falconer

UK & Europe

Peter Falconer is head of lifecycle management in Atkins’ oil and gas business. He leads decommissioning activities from the Aberdeen office and is widely recognised as an expert in his field.

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In today’s market, in order to preserve the fragile environment, provision has to be made during the design phase for end of life and potential re-use of material. Just as for domestic products such as fridges and your car, oil and gas installations and nuclear infrastructure are no different.

However, much of the current power infrastructure was commissioned years ago prior to such significant focus on re-use. As a result decommissioning of these energy facilities can be technically challenging to ensure maximum re-use, protection of the environment, safety to personnel, and cost efficiency of the selected removal and destruction methods. This is a challenge which Atkins has risen to in supporting operators.

In some cases we have been involved in design and operations of installations for years and therefore we’re well versed with the specific issues which need to be taken into account during this late life phase of the asset. In other cases, we spend time ensuring all relevant data is assembled to make informed decisions on decommissioning activities.

Not only from an environmental and personal safety perspective but with large amounts of money being spent solving complex technical challenges it is essential to get it right, and there is pressure to find newer, more innovative ways for decommissioning and reducing the high costs involved. Both the nuclear and oil and gas industries have stressed the need to balance between decommissioning and keeping existing assets up and running in a safe way.

The pressure to keep the lights on means that almost all of our existing nuclear power stations have been granted life extensions to keep operating safely well into the 2020s until a number of new, more advanced reactors are planned to be operating. The oil and gas industry is no different with many installations working past their initial design life. Atkins has been assisting both these industries by assessing the implications of extended life and developing a road map of activities to ensure safe ongoing operation, with no unplanned failures affecting production or the ability to operate. This is particularly relevant during a time of low oil prices when it becomes harder for oil and gas operators to delay decommissioning to the optimum point.

While Atkins has been involved in decommissioning activities across the spectrum of energy facilities for over 20 years, more recently we have challenged ourselves to determine if there is an opportunity to face this huge undertaking head on and improve collaboration and cross-sector learning, not just within a particular sector, but across the energy industry as a whole. Whilst the nature of the materials involved and the processes required can be different there are many similarities between the worlds of decommissioning in oil and gas and nuclear, especially with regards to control of waste, accident and hazard prevention, use of remote operations and safety, amongst others.

Atkins believes there are many more lessons that can be taken from one industry to another.

Decommissioning within the North Sea is still in its infancy. The new Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) aims to have established a single forum to “drive innovation and efficiency in decommissioning” by September this year which is welcome news.

There is a clear opportunity here to grab this challenge with both hands.

Skills and experience in the nuclear decommissioning industry have been developing for a long time and could be extremely valuable in helping to inform how we make changes to properly, safely and cost effectively decommission in oil and gas. Transfer of skills from one industry to another is an important factor in promoting cross-sector learning, and the highly skilled nuclear decommissioning workforce could have a lot to offer oil and gas operators in the near future.

On a commercial side, the UKCS is one of the first places in the world where a significant amount of oil and gas infrastructure decommissioning will be undertaken – there is a major opportunity for British companies to gain experience here and export that to other areas of the world as global infrastructure assets come to end of life.

Knowledge and experience gained in one sector shouldn’t stay in siloes. Even if it doesn’t seem immediately obvious that there is an overlap, we know that we can learn from experiences gained in another sector. It’s good to share.

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