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The Future of the UKCS Offshore Decommissioning Industry

Lifecycle stage
Graph showing top 12 global markets

(Fig. 13. Source: Wood MacKenzie – Forecasting UK being the highest area for global decommissioning expenditure)


The cumulative forecast for the next ten years on UKCS is £15.3bn (a reduced figure on recent years). Regulators and the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) strives to reduce decommissioning expenditure by 35% by 2035, supporting the policy of Maximising Economic Recovery (MER).

Chart showing Annual expenditure from Oil and Gas UK, OGA

Forecast Yearly Decommissioning Expenditure 2018-2027


Decommissioning activities must also be examined in context with the recent performance of the wider oil and gas industry:

  • Wider efficiencies are slowing the pace of decommissioning
  • Improved preparation and planning are also factors
  • Decommissioning remains a small part of overall expenditure
  • Well decommissioning increasingly dominates drilling activity (see Figure 4)
A graph showing UKCS Expenditure from Oil & Gas UK - OGA

UKCS expenditure


Graph showing UKCS Wells activity - Exploration, Appraisal, Development, Decommissioned

UKCS Wells Activity – Source OGA



The expectation is that costs will fall as industry experience grows particularly as well decommissioning is the largest category of expenditure. Operators are shown to be proactive in reducing costs and learning the lessons from experience, conferences/forums, and networking. The following datasets align with these notions for both Central/Northern/Shetland and Southern/Irish Sea areas:

Well Decommissioning

Graph from Oil and Gas UK with a table showing Well Decommissioning Averages for 2016, 2017 and 2018

Historical Variation in Well Decommissioning Cost Forecasts in the Central and Northern North Sea and West of Shetland


Chart with table below showing Well Decommissioning averages for 2016, 2017, 2018

Historical variation in well decommissioning cost forecasts in the southern North Sea and Irish Sea


Topsides and substructures

Forecast costs continue a downward trend, particularly substructure removal with expenditure dropping from £4,722 per tonne to £3,953. Operators look to reduce the costs by:

  • Consolidating decommissioning activity as part of a longer-term programme
  • Allowing the market to drive the removal method
  • Being flexible about when the activity takes place
  • Exploring the potential for cross operator campaigns


Notable stats show although 203 fields are identified to undergo decommissioning activity (214 previous years), Central North Sea share has grown to 83 fields (an increase on 77 last year). The North Sea wells expected by 2027 number 475 (compared to 452 previously forecast) which ran to 2025. Additionally, an increase in the length of pipelines is 5,724 km (over ten years) compared to 5,514 forecasted in last year’s report.

Chart showing UKCS Decommissioning activity forecast 2018 to 2027

UKCS Decommissioning activity forecast 2018 to 2027


In the next decade, almost 2,400 wells are expected to be decommissioned in North Sea/west of Shetland (Over 900 of which are located across Norwegian, Danish and Dutch sectors). Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands are forecast to remove 347,733 tonnes of topsides and decommission 195,067 tonnes of substructure. International activity is less than levels in UKCS for the period, but still significant.  With much of the activities occurring concurrently, it is vital these regions work alongside each other to ensure work scopes are cost-efficient with lessons and experiences shared and learned.

and finally…

Attending the conference this year was Claxton’s Matt Marcantonio, Head of Decommissioning. Matt jointly chaired event sessions talking about the challenges in the industry as well as how our expertise in well decommissioning and rigless operations is supporting future industry developments, which as a result, Oil and Gas UK have indicated they would welcome more input from both Claxton and Acteon at future events. To quote Matt:

“After many years of discussion, it really feels as if the industry is combining; networking events like the Offshore Decommissioning Conference really do provide a valuable forum for meaningful collaborative discussions, and enables us to consider strategies towards reducing the cost to meet 30% reduction targets. The panel sessions were very enjoyable and we really do appreciate the opportunity to put Claxton’s perspective on thought-leading questions.”

The full report is available for download from: and makes recommended reading for any operator, analyst or student interested in the sector.

Look out for the next in our series of decommissioning blogs, and if there is a particular subject you would like us to cover, please leave your thoughts and feedback below…

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