Aberdeen University could help prevent a rerun of the Brent Spar controversy, in which Shell and Greenpeace clashed over the strategy for decommissioning the floating oil installation, with a new international information centre on maturing offshore oil and gas fields.
Three leading oil industry players, Esso Exploration and Production UK, Shell UK, and the John Wood Group, have funded the launch and first five years' work of "The Reservoir", a source of information for industry, researchers, Government, and environmental organisations.
Although the seedcorn funding has come from industry, the new centre is fiercely independent.
"There were a lot of incorrect facts being bandied around at the time of Brent Spar," said Dick Parker, Shell UK's production director. "If such a centre of excellence had been available then, all the stakeholders involved in the process could have got genuine, factual information much more easily."
Thousands of offshore structures have been set up worldwide over the past 30 years, and solutions are now needed on how they can be decommissioned once the oil and gas fields become depleted. The Reservoir could, for example, allow various techniques for decommissioning subsea pipelines to be assessed by gathering data from current operators and research bodies, and research could then be commissioned into the economic, legal, environmental and engineering implications of adopting the various options in a particular case.
"One of our primary objectives is to ensure that the operation and resources of The Reservoir are accessible to everyone with an interest in mature assets, their operation and decommissioning, and other related issues, wherever in the world the information or expertise is located," said a university spokesman.
The companies' gift to Aberdeen's quincentenary appeal comes a year after the university set up the oil and gas institute, offering research, consultancy and training across disciplines such as petroleum economics, offshore safety, commercial law and environmental sciences.
Eric Faulds, Shell's decommissioning manager, said decommissioning was technologically in its infancy, and a great deal of fundamental research was needed.