The last year or so has seen a number of innovative approaches developed to help with the clean up of hazardous environments.

For instance, the Row-Bot has been developed by Bristol Robotics Laboratory to help clean up hazardous waterways, whilst there have also been machines developed to help with the decommissioning of nuclear sites.

The latest project undertaken by the university, in partnership with the Oil and Gas Innovation Centre (OIGC) and consultancy company Xodus, attempts to make the decommissioning of oil rigs safer and more efficient.

Better decommissioning

The partnership will undertake a series of tests to allow the industry to better remove subsea structures, and therefore hopefully deliver substantial cost-savings over the decommissioning process.

OGIC chief executive officer Ian Phillips said: “Decommissioning is a relatively new industry in the UK continental shelf and offers significant opportunities for the supply chain to develop new processes and technology which will be needed globally.

“The University of Dundee and Xodus project has the potential to ensure that costly decommissioning projects are carried out efficiently.

“Carrying out research in a controlled laboratory environment will produce data which would be challenging to gather in the field.

“The fact that the University of Dundee has the R&D capabilities to support this work is testament to the expertise which exists in Scottish universities.”

Dr Andrew Brennan, senior lecturer in civil engineering at the University of Dundee, said removing structures from the seabed “poses major engineering challenges due to the number of variables”.

He added: “By performing a series of small-scale model tests, we can understand better how each of these variables controls the process and hence improve the efficiency of foundation extraction in the future.

“At the University of Dundee we have world-class laboratory facilities and a long history of testing geotechnical models.”

Andy Small, principal geotechnical engineer with Xodus, said: “Decommissioning of subsea structures presents significant challenges. The potential for overall project cost increases due to unknowns is high, especially with regard to seabed uncertainty.

“This research will produce invaluable knowledge and understanding of the recovery process and associated risks, and will likely result in significant cost savings and operational efficiencies.

“The transfer of knowledge and experiences through projects like this is crucial to enable the industry to continue to develop efficient and effective decommissioning.”

With estimates suggesting that around 150 platforms are due to be decommissioned before 2026, any cost-savings that can be made could add up to substantial sums for the industry at a time when falling oil prices are squeezing margins across the board.