HSE Policy for Decommissioning Programmes Submitted to DECC for Approval


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Fully open
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Target audience:
All OSD and SI3 Inspectors Band 0-3
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To set out the key points about HSE's role and its policy in respect of Decommissioning Programmes (DPs) which the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) sends to HSE for comment. This SPC replaces SPC/Tech/OSD/12 (Version 4) which has been withdrawn.


1. This SPC explains in detail the terms of OSPAR Decision 98/3 which governs the decommissioning of offshore installations and the difference in approach which HSE will adopt between a "standard" DP and one which presents a case for derogation to the requirements of Decision 98/3.

Petroleum Act 1998

2. The decommissioning of offshore installations and pipelines on the UKCS is controlled through the Petroleum Act 1998. Responsibility for ensuring that the requirements of the Act are complied with rests with DECC. Government policy is to seek effective and balanced decommissioning solutions, which are consistent with international obligations and have a proper regard for safety, the environment, other legitimate uses of the sea and economic considerations.

3. Section 29 of the Act requires the submission, for the Secretary of State's approval, of a costed DP which contains the measures proposed to be taken in connection with the decommissioning and dismantlement of an installation or pipeline. In the case of a large and/or complex field or installation discussions on the decommissioning process may commence 3 years or more in advance of the forecasted cessation of production (COP).

The role of DECC and HSE

4. Consideration and approval of DPs for installations or pipelines is co-ordinated by DECC's Offshore Decommissioning Unit in Aberdeen, which consults with the appropriate government departments and agencies including HSE.

5. DECC is responsible for agreeing the extent of removal and ensuring that the measures proposed in the DP conform with UK policy. HSE is responsible for ensuring that duty holders comply with their health and safety obligations with respect to decommissioning and dismantlement operations. HSE's considerations are therefore restricted to health and safety issues - based on the evidence in a safety case and PSR notifications. Receiving the draft DP helps to inform HSE's dialogue with duty holders prior to them submitting the relevant safety case.

HSE policy for responding to decommissioning programmes

6. HSE recognises that Government policy involves a presumption in favour of removal in principle. This is governed by the UK's obligations under Decision 98/3 under the 1992 Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the Marine environment of the North East Atlantic (OSPAR). Under the terms of Decision 98/3 the dumping and leaving wholly or partly in place of offshore installations is prohibited. The topsides of all steel and concrete installations must be returned to shore, as well as installations with a jacket weight less than 10,000 tonnes, which must be completely removed for re-use, recycling or final disposal on land. The Decision recognises possible difficulties in removing the "footings" of large steel jackets weighing more than 10,000 tonnes and in removing concrete installations. For that reason derogation from the main rule may be possible but only if the assessment and consultation procedure, which forms part of the OSPAR Decision, shows that there are significant reasons why an alternative disposal option is preferable to re-use or recycling or final disposal on land. It would be for DECC to judge whether a satisfactory case has been made for seeking a derogation from the general rule of Decision 98/3. [OSPAR Decision 98/3 does not cover Pipelines.]

7. Further details about the OSPAR rules governing decommissioning can be found in DECCS's Guidance Notes on Decommissioning.

8. HSE's remit relates only to risks to people and not, for example, to economic or environmental issues. So we can provide comments to DECC about the short term occupational risks to those employed in the decommissioning process, but it would be for DECC to balance these against the longer term marine and environmental risks. There are, however, long term safety issues regarding wells and pipelines equipment which remain on location eg ensuring the safety of other users of the sea from the residual post-decommissioning hazards which remain in perpetuity. In respect of risks to personnel being cited to justify a particular removal option, or as a factor in the case for derogation from the requirement for total removal, it would be for DECC to seek independent expert advice if necessary (eg to review in detail risk assessments undertaken on behalf of the operator and cited in support of the proposed DP).

9. HSE's comments about a Decommissioning Programme would be based on examination of the material as presented. Our main interest would be in the operator's preferred removal option, as this would form the basis of the safety case for abandonment if the DP were to be accepted. We may however decide to examine any supporting studies cited in the DP if we felt that they may raise issues of concern or uncertainty that would benefit from early examination and resolution with the operator.

10. Where Decision 98/3 of OSPAR requires an installation to be removed completely HSE can assume that full removal can be carried out to appropriate safety standards. Therefore we will limit consideration of the Decommissioning Programme to a review of the outline of the removal methodology to identify any major concerns.

11. For derogation and pipeline cases, where arguments may be presented to show that the risks associated with full removal will be high, we would also comment on any significant inconsistencies or concerns we may have about the risk assessment methodology employed, including assumptions made, criteria used, and conclusions reached. Nonetheless any advice provided to DECC would be without prejudice to our assessment of the decommissioning phase within the safety case and PSR notifications, which, whether or not a derogation is granted, will require in-depth consideration of more detailed health and safety information of the preferred dismantlement or removal option.

12. Regardless of the DP adopted, in undertaking the proposed work, the duty holder is required to comply with all relevant regulations providing for the health and safety of persons. In particular, a key requirement is to reduce, so far as reasonably practicable, the risks to persons from work activities. Control of such risks will need to be described in the safety case, which is subject to acceptance by HSE before the work may proceed.

13. Given the substantial nature of the proposed operations for the larger installations, it would be helpful for the duty holder and HSE to work closely together during the development of the decommissioning programme, so that any concerns we may have about the proposed conduct of the operations can be identified and resolved in good time. Ideally this will be before any significant decisions have been taken and before substantial expenditure has been committed to.

This will be before any significant decisions have been taken and before substantial expenditure has been committed to.

Further information

Further information can be obtained from OSD4.2.

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Updated 2023-11-22