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Disused drilling installations pose a threat to the North Sea environment

Thousands of disused installations related to oil and gas extraction in the North Sea litter the seabed, posing a threat to the environment, Dutch, Norwegian and Belgian media report.

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The “Graveyard of the North Sea” report published on Saturday, May 20, by Dutch investigative journalism platform “Follow the Money”, Norwegian broadcaster “NRK” and Belgian daily “De Tijd” established what kind of oil and gas infrastructure is in the North Sea.

The study shows that almost one in ten gas or oil platforms in the North Sea is not operational. In addition, 20% of the pipelines (8,500 km) at its bottom are no longer in use, as are 85% of the wells, of which there are as many as 23,000. The media reported that these facilities are owned by large corporations such as BP, Shell, Equinor and TotalEnergies.

Although there is an obligation to remove unused rigs, due to the cost, their owners postpone the work or get permission from the relevant countries to leave them offshore, according to the journalists’ findings. “This inactive infrastructure is mostly located in the British part of the North Sea, followed by the Norwegian and Dutch parts, and to a much lesser extent in the Danish and German parts,” reads the published material.

Some scientists argue that it would cause less harm to leave most of the drilling infrastructure standing. As per Shell and other giants of the oil industry, the legs of oil platforms serve as artificial reefs, encrusted with mussel and oyster beds, while superstructures provide isolated breeding grounds for seabirds. Digging them up, cutting them apart and dragging them away would only further disrupt seafloor life, the argument goes.

Filip Volckaert, a professor of evolutionary and marine biology at Belgian university KU Leuven, dismissed that argument, saying the long-term harm caused by leaving the infrastructure to decompose outweighs any temporary damage from dismantling the platforms.

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