Oil rigs in Cromarty Firth, Scotland

New project to apply circular economy to oil and gas decommissioning

Resource Recovery from Waste and Zero Waste Scotland launched an impact project to apply circular economy principles to oil and gas decommissioning.

The Resource Recovery from Waste programme at the University of Leeds and Zero Waste Scotland have formed a new partnership to explore the potential of circular economy supply chains in the decommissioning of North Sea oil and gas.

This project aims to support communities of businesses in Scotland to reinvent themselves with new products and services for the North Sea oil and gas decommissioning supply chains while maintaining a part of their identity, as the oil and gas sector moves from extraction to decommissioning. Resource Recovery from Waste and Zero Waste Scotland will closely collaborate with a group of core stakeholders to:

  • Identify circular economy supply chains for decommissioned North Sea oil and gas infrastructure.
  • Analyse the economic, social and environmental impacts and benefits of potential circular economy supply chains for decommissioned materials and components.
  • Articulate recommendations for government and industry to embed circular economy into decommissioning.

In the next 30-40 years the oil and gas sector will have to decommission 600 installations in the UK alone. Over the next decade ca. 840,000 tonnes of materials will have to be recovered at an estimated cost of £25Bn. In 2017 North Sea oil and gas decommissioning became a net-drain on the public purse. With UK taxpayers covering 50%-70% of the bill, there is an urgent need to discuss the most economic, social and environmentally beneficial decommissioning solutions for the general public.

Decommissioning supply chains are currently dominated by foreign companies, resulting in most of the potential value being exported. Decommissioning scenarios such as managed abandonment, scrapping of components and exporting materials generally result in a low preservation of technical, functional characteristics of materials and components. Consideration of circular economy scenarios such as reuse, repair, remanufacturing and recycling of materials and components from decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure would preserve technical value and could potentially offer environmental benefits while strengthening local communities and supply chains.

Resource Recovery from Waste will apply the CVORR approach, which is an abbreviation for Complex Value Optimisation for Resource Recovery, for the first time to a decommissioning context (see Figure 1). The project will co-produce and analyse the environmental, social, technical and economic values that are created and destructed along potential new circular economy supply chains. The results will help to embed circular economy approaches in policy and regulation for decommissioning.

Diagram of CVORR framework
Figure 1: Framework for complex value optimisation for resource recovery (CVORR) [1]

The 5-month project was funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account of the University of Leeds to generate wider social and economic benefits from the CVORR project. It will also offer the University of Leeds with the opportunity to build capacity in the area of circular economy and decommissioning, bringing together an interdisciplinary team of collaborators from across the university in Civil Engineering, Earth and Environment, Petroleum Leeds, Sustainability Research Institute and Leeds University Business School.

The project team welcomes expressions of interest to become involved from across the academic, public, private and civil sectors. Please contact Dr Anne Velenturf, Research Impact Fellow in Circular Economy at the University of Leeds: A.Velenturf@leeds.ac.uk.


[1] Iacovidou et al. (2017). A pathway to circular economy: Developing a conceptual framework for complex value assessment of resources recovered from waste. Journal of Cleaner Production. 168, 1279-1288. doi: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2017.09.002, Open Access.

Feature image (top) by Elliott Day from Pixabay