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Breaking up is profitable to do

On 7 May, Seaton Port in Hartlepool received a 24,200-tonne giant structure, the Shell Brent Delta oil rig platform. The event garnered widespread media coverage because of the impressive engineering achievement of transporting the plat­form – on a 200m-long barge called the Iron Lady – hundreds of miles across the sea from gas fields north of Shetland.

It was a key moment in Teesside’s strategy to develop a circular economy. Shell estimates that around 97% of the material by weight will be recycled, including 21,700 tonnes of steel. It could take between 12 and 18 months to complete the job.

The company chose the site because of the existing recycling infrastructure. Seaton Port is run by Able UK, and it is less than a mile from the company’s Seaton Meadows hazardous waste land­fill site.

Shell invested in Able’s decommissioning facilities, including developing a new quay, because it has long-term plans to recycle other oil rig platforms as they reach the end of their useful life. According to Shell, investment and associated developments are “equivalent to over 193,000 man hours or 106 jobs over a one-year period”.

So far, around 10% of the North Sea oil installations has entered the decommissioning phase. Eventually, around 600 installations will be decommissioned, and this will be a mainstay of the UK economy for the next 30-40 years.

The decommissioning programme had to be agreed with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It says that around 1,000 people are currently working on the Brent Pro­ject, both offshore and onshore, with the majority employed by UK companies. The department added: “The project is contributing to a positive impact on the supply chain and local companies.”

Decommissioning on Teesside

Able UK is involved in construction, landfill, waste management, marine recycling, demolition and land reclamation. It runs a five ports along the Tees river.

It has been carrying out ship and oil rig decommissioning and recycling since 1985. In 2009 the Seaton Port facility started work on the French aircraft carrier, Le Clemenceau, which was hailed as the largest single ship contract in Europe.

Around 1,000 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated material had to be dealt with safely. Able UK hailed a 98% recycling rate for the project.

Rig’s materials breakdown

  • Steel: 21,700 tonnes
  • Aluminium: 65 tonnes
  • Copper: 84 tonnes
  • Copper nickel alloy: 309 tonnes
  • Lead, batteries and cast lead: 14 tonnes
  • Titanium: 31 tonnes
  • Zinc: 499 tonnes
  • PVC: 61 tonnes
  • Glass: 5 tonnes
  • Batteries: 31 tonnes
  • Cotton: 6 tonnes
  • Nylon: 10 tonnes
  • Wood: 7 tonnes
  • Asbestos: 10 tonnes

Source: Shell. Note: Not all materials are included in this breakdown.

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