BP accused of dumping waste in protected marine environment

Article by Amanda Jasi

TK Kurikawa / Shutterstock.com

BP HAS been accused of dumping industrial waste in a marine-protected area off west Shetland, reports The Guardian. This is reportedly as part of decommissioning of the Petrojarl Foinaven floating production, storage, and offload (FPSO) vessel.

Oil major BP has highlighted that its approved decommissioning programme will eventually see the equipment that it drops removed from the ocean. It denied allegations regarding the impact of its decommissioning programme, and further explained the rationale behind its plans.

The Guardian reports that according to confidential documents which it has seen, BP sought approval to dump 14 pipes and control cables (also referred to as risers and umbilicals) 120 miles west of Shetland after finishing drilling at the site. The press article states that it started dropping the equipment on 2 July after receiving clearance from the UK’s decommissioning regulator.

The pipelines and cables BP plans to release will drop onto a Nature Conservation Marine Protected Area (NCMPA), a designation used to protect marine areas in Scottish territorial and offshore waters. Decommissioning for the vessel will involve BP dropping 10 pipelines and four umbilicals which have a combined weight of 2,391 t. The pipelines are between 807 and 834 m in length, and the umbilicals have lengths of 841 m, 845 m, 845 m, and 4,150 m. BP also plans to drop the vessel’s 10 mooring lines and anchors which weigh a total 4,169 t.

According to the Guardian, the company originally applied to the regulator to lower the pipelines and cables in a controlled manner. It highlights that after a series of delays these plans have reportedly changed repeatedly and the company now also has permission for uncontrolled release that would see the equipment fall unguided to the sea floor.

The Guardian reports that Chief Scientist at Greenpeace UK Doug Parr said: “The only circumstances in which any company should contemplate dumping hardware on to the seabed in an uncontrolled manner would be to save lives in an emergency. The fact that BP is proposing to do this simply out of expediency is hard to defend.”

BP refutes that the method of release it has opted for is uncontrolled, as accused. It has opted for hydraulic release, which is says is now considered the “necessary and best step to help meet the safe timeline for removal of the FPSO during the preferred weather window”. BP added that the method   will be “controlled and sequenced” adding that “while the drop will be unguided the landing area is predicted”.

The company highlighted that its marine licence from the UK’s Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) gives consent to disconnect the risers via a range of options, including hydraulic release. As of 6 July, the Guardian said four risers had been released.

The Guardian says a source with direct knowledge of the plans claimed that it would be “immensely costly and challenging” to recover the dropped cables and risers, suggesting a cost of “tens of millions of pounds” and the need for “special retrieval ships and underwater vessels”. BP said that it is inaccurate that its chosen method of release will make recovery more difficult in future, adding that it will also not impact the cost of recovery.

BP said that there is no financial or cost benefit from choosing hydraulic release. Moreover, the company is committed to recovering the risers and umbilicals in the future for reuse or disposal onshore. However, it denied to disclose when recovery would take place.

It added: “Our plans to recover and dispose of the Foinaven risers and our commitments to minimise impact on the environment as part of our decommissioning process remain unchanged. Solely due to safety considerations, our proposed method of disconnecting the risers has changed, but our plans to recover and dispose of the risers have not.”

Addressing the potential damage to the Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt NCMPA, BP said that its disconnection operation would have a worst-case footprint of 0.067 km2 seabed disturbance, representing less than 0.002% of the Belt. The Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt covers an area of about 5,278 km2.

The company also said that an environmental assessment justification was prepared for the work, which is consistent with requirements of the marine licence application.

Petrojarl Foinaven is associated with the Foinaven field, which is 120 miles off the west of Shetland, in water depths ranging between 330 m and 530 m. Sanctioned for development in 1994, it was the first deepwater development on the UK Continental Shelf and the first west of Shetland. Foinaven first produced oil in November 1997 and production was suspended in 2021. In April 2021, BP announced it would be retiring Petrojarl Foinaven from operations, as the FPSO approached the end of its 25-year design life.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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