DecomWorld this week asked Mr Charles Watson, Offshore Regulatory Compliance at Williams Midstream about the challenges associated with decommissioning for the offshore industry…
DecomWorld: Where in the oil and gas industry does your company sit?
Watson: Williams consists mainly of the Midstream and Gas Pipeline business units. The units own interest in or operate 15,000 miles of interstate gas pipelines, 1,000 miles of NGL transportation pipelines, and more than 10,000 miles of oil and gas gathering pipelines. Both units own and/or operate several offshore platforms (fixed and floating) and transport offshore oil and gas production from these platforms to facilities onshore through their extensive offshore pipeline infrastructure.
DecomWorld: What decommissioning projects are you working on right now and what are your aims for the next 12 months?
Watson: Our near-term focus on decommissioning projects is on assets with waning production levels in shallow water (pipelines and platforms). We are consistently looking for new business and innovative methods to help our customers achieve their highest production rates, while limiting the cost of maintenance and repair to now-defunct assets. Cost effective and environmentally friendly methods of decommissioning are always an area of interest for Williams, such as rigs-to-reefs programs, disposal methods, platform removal methodology, and pipeline abandonment or removal concerns.
In the next 12 months we would like to work with the agencies involved to help stream line the decommissioning/abandonment process, both for them and us. Gaining standardization across the board usually helps, but we want to make sure we are not over taxing our resources, the regulations, and the regulators themselves.
We are also discussing, through various venues, the suitable methodology for the decommissioning of our larger deepwater assets (floating production systems, SCRs, and pipelines) in the future. While much of this will remain uncharted territory in the industry for several years due to the relatively young age of these deepwater facilities, the time to plan for these actions with state and Federal regulatory bodies, and communities, is now. The next generation of offshore oil and gas industry personnel will appreciate that when the time comes.
DecomWorld: How do you differentiate your business from your competitors?
Watson: Williams is dedicated to safe, reliable, and efficient operations of all of its assets, coupled with dedication to the environment, communities, and people adjacent to those assets. Employees of Williams take a great deal of pride in their work, consistent environmental stewardship, their service to our customers, and in giving back to the community.
DecomWorld: Who has come up with the most exciting decommissioning innovation or creative idea that you’ve seen recently and why?
Watson: With my job focus on the regulatory aspect of the industry I do not often get the chance to peruse new technologies that innovate and support oil and gas operations offshore. However, I can say that industry efforts to attain the best and most efficient methods of well plug and abandonment are astounding. With the regulatory focus on this aspect of decommissioning and the high visibility these operations and their results can bring a company, this is no surprise; however, companies and contractors throughout the Gulf of Mexico region have brought valuable experience and vigilance to this facet of offshore operations. They continue to develop innovative solutions that increase the efficiency and safety of P&A activities.
Other aspect of decommissioning that I have noticed are the increased strides to improved efficiency in topsides equipment and piping removal, and the reuse of those topsides materials. This type of forward thinking is essential to the continued success of the offshore oil and gas industry.
DecomWorld: What are the main trends/issues that will impact the industry the most in the coming years moving forward with decommissioning projects and why?
Watson: As I mentioned previously, the deepwater decommissioning will be a hot topic in years to come. The potential costs to the companies can be quite large for abandonment/removal of deepwater fixed and floating platforms, as well as those costs associated with risers and pipelines. At this time there is no proven methodology or approved regulatory standing for these operations. Industry personnel both within the companies and the regulatory agencies need to set aside time to determine what is both economically feasible and best for the offshore environment.
Other issues that come to mind stem from the growing trend of shifts in regulatory policies, as well as the regulations themselves. While regulatory changes are needed and inevitable, especially as the industry continues to press into deeper water, these changes must be vetted out properly between the agencies that enforce them. Unchecked they will likely result in conflicts over jurisdictional boundaries and regulations that are not commensurate with each other, which can result in unnecessary delays in the decommissioning of assets.
Mr Charles Watson will be discussing regulatory compliance strategies when decommissioning offshore at this year’s 4th Annual Decommissioning & Abandonment Summit (22-23 March, 2012, Houston, TX). You can view more details about this year’s meeting at http://www.decomworld.com/decommissioning/conference-event-brochure.php
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