Underwater laser pipe cutters

Europe is currently the largest market for offshore decommissioning with the majority of this activity taking place in the North Sea.[1] In the North Sea approximately 2000 wells are planned to be abandoned in the upcoming decade.[2,3] Estimates for costs of the decommissioning of the North Sea range from £50bn to £100bn.[4]

The removal of subsea structures accounts for 6.6% of this cost.[5] These are associated with the removal of pipes and subsea structures on the seabed floor. Underwater robots, armed with cutting lasers, can potentially decrease costs by 20% by replacing the need for human divers and improving efficiencies.[6,7] Although submarine pipelines can be up to 75mm thick, lasers that can cut through 50mm of mild steel at depths of up to 100 meters are reaching their prototype stage.[6,8] An outstanding challenge for this application is the remote piloting of the robots to perform this operation.

When will underwater robots, armed with laser cutters, become accepted practice in the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas platforms?

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[1] English, Y., (2018), Everything you need to know about offshore decommissioning
[2] Kaminski, I. (2017). Tackling old oil and gas platforms
[3] Vrålstad, T., Saasen, A., Fjær, E., Øia, T., Ytrehus, J. D., Khalifeh, M. (2019) Plug & abandonment of offshore wells: Ensuring long-term well integrity and cost-efficiency Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering
[4] Offshore Technology, (2017). Can decommissioning cause more harm than good?
[5] Oil & Gas (2018). Decommissioning Insight 2018
[6] The National Decommisioning Centre, 2019, Current Projects
[7] Foroenergy, (2019). Offshore/Subsea Decommissioning
[8] Subsea World News (2017), TWI to Develop Underwater Laser Cutting for Decommissioning
More information:
Patent application publication Zediker et al., (2017), High Power Laser Offshore Decommissioning Tool , System and Methods of Use
Oil & Gas UK. (2012), The Decommissioning of steel piled jackets in the north sea region


By Matthew J. Spaniol