One of the most significant operations in the North Sea for many years is under way.
Over the weekend, Allseas’ phenomenal twin-hulled Pioneering Spirit – at 382 metres long and 124m wide, the largest construction vessel ever built – quietly manoeuvred itself into place to perform the incredible feat of lifting the 24,000-tonne Brent Delta oil platform from the legs that have anchored it to the seabed for more than 40 years.
The operation is the first large-scale decommissioning project on the UK Continental Shelf and marks a watershed moment for the industry.
The North Sea has entered a new era of mega-engineering, with the clean-up of one of the world’s most mature oil basins presenting a potentially significant commercial opportunity for many years to come.
But there’s a problem.
The Pioneering Spirit wasn’t heading for Nigg or Aberdeen, Montrose, Dundee, Rosyth, Leith or any other Scottish port to deposit its gargantuan cargo for dismantling and recycling.
Instead, it sailed right past each of those potential decom destinations en route to Teeside and, more specifically, Able UK’s Seaton Port facility.
The contract to dismantle Brent Delta will provide high-volume and high-value work for that yard for a year.
There is the promise of more to come as Shell continues to decommission the structures of the field that gave Brent crude its name.
In preparation for the Brent contract, Able invested £28 million in ensuring it had a deep-water quayside facility to cope with the megastructures that pepper the North Sea and other oil and gas basins worldwide.
Scotland has existing port facilities that could at least partially handle the Brent contract, and it is comforting to know that millions are being spent in Dundee and at Montrose to ensure both docks are in the decom game in future.
But the truth is Scotland has lost the first battle of the decom war.
As Delta lost its legs, Able stole a march on its rivals and has put Scotland firmly on the back foot.
That is not a situation that can be tolerated.
We have the skills and, where there are physical deficiencies, we can build the infrastructure.
What we need is an unrelenting drive to push Scotland as a genuine contender in the decommissioning arena.
Get it right and Scotland’s proud track record of leading the world in offshore heavy engineering will not only be sustained but enhanced.
With the economic prize on offer, failure is not an option.