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Removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations

Removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations



Communication (COM(98) 49 final) – removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations


The European Commission aims to protect the environment by reducing pollution from disused offshore oil and gas installations.


  • The debate about the disposal of redundant offshore oil and gas installations was re-opened in 1995 with the Brent Spar ‘affair’. Shell had decided, with the authorisation of the UK Government, to sink their oil storage buoy Brent Spar at a deep water site in the North Atlantic.
  • This decision was strongly criticised by the public because of the damage to the marine environment. In the Ministerial Declaration following the North Sea Conference which was being held at the same time, the majority of the Ministers present, with the exception of the UK and Norwegian Ministers, called for a complete ban on the disposal at sea of such installations.
  • Following a consumer boycott of Shell products in several EU countries, the company finally abandoned its plan and decided to dismantle the structure of the installation and reuse the hull as part of a quay extension in Norway. This one-off solution has not however provided a general answer for the 600 other installations of this type in European waters, most of them in British and Norwegian waters.
  • The disposal of disused installations has been examined under the OSPAR Convention (OSPAR: Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft, signed in Oslo on 15 February 1972, succeeded by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, signed in Paris on 9 September 1992), which adopted a related decision in 1998.
  • In November 1996, the Commission commissioned a study into the technical, environmental and economic aspects of the removal and disposal of such installations, which reached the following conclusions:
  • As regards large concrete installations:
    • lack of knowledge of the technical aspects of their disposal;
    • no need to dispose of them completely from an environmental point of view;
    • impossible to estimate the cost of their disposal.
  • For the remaining installations with steel structures:
    • complete disposal is technically feasible;
    • it is economically justified;
    • it can be undertaken in complete safety;
    • the residues of toxic or hazardous substances can be reduced;
    • the steel can be recycled on land.
  • Removal and disposal costs are met by the owners of the installations, i.e. the oil and gas companies. Some of this expenditure is tax deductible. The overall cost of towing all platforms to shore for recycling has been estimated at €2 billion over 25 years, or on average €80 million per year. The impact of such a decision on the overall production costs of oil and gas would in general terms be negligible.
  • There are many international texts covering disused offshore oil and gas installations, including:

There is however no specific common legal framework in this area. Moreover, these Conventions deal only with minimum standards. Individual countries may impose more stringent conditions.

  • The advantages of adopting uniform international legislation in this area are as follows:
    • removal of the risk of competition resulting from differences in national legislation;
    • restrictions on discharges of pollutants from installations;
    • reduction in pollution of the marine environment;
    • greater safety of navigation.


Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on removal and disposal of disused offshore oil and gas installations (COM(98) 49 final, 18.2.1998)

last update 23.02.2017