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Managing a PS1bn boom; Mastermind aims to make Scotland lead the way in decommissioning.

Byline: BRIAN NIXON decom north sea Graeme Smith

It is a mark of the current buoyancy of the North Sea oil and gas industry that the multibillion pound opportunities created by decommissioning have never quite arrived.

High oil prices and advancing technology continue to extend the life of fields but, according to industry expert Brian Nixon, the inevitable is imminent bringing with it expenditure of at least PS1billion a year.

As chief executive of Decom North Sea, Brian is masterminding the UK's effort to capitalise on these opportunities . He says although everyone has known about decommissioning for decades, there has been a perception it would keep slipping back and in any case it was "always going to be someone else's job."

Now, however, the opportunities are arising and he hopes that Scotland can become a global leader in decommissioning, just as it has in exploration and production.

"We are here to help companies identify what is required and where the business opportunities are," he said. "We have this role in the centre of the industry to help the operators and the owners of these assets to find their way to the sources of talent, technology and expertise that they need to safely and responsibly deal with these challenging projects.

"On the other hand, we are here to help individual companies maximise the economic and business development opportunities from this growing and emerging sector.

"The last thing we are here to do is accelerate the pace of decommissioning but there is an inevitability about the industry. All the forecasts we have suggest that we are on the cusp of a sustained 30-year programme of expenditure and there is a lot of preparation to done before the industry has developed the models, the guidelines, the standards and indeed the experience required to become truly efficient."

He said four different sources of market intelligence - academia, the government regulator, the industry itself and independent consultants - were all saying the same thing, that the build-up in activity will happen in the next 18 months to two years then sustain in the UK sector alone at an average of PS1billion a year expenditure for the next 30 years.

"If you look across the North Sea, then it will be PS2billion a year for the next 30 years," Brian said. "We look forward to more stable levels of market activity which will allow individual companies to bring forward the new techniques and the new ideas the industry needs to really begin to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

"We are already tracking the international market opportunities and they are many and varied. The ambition for sure is to capture and articulate and begin to promote the real strengths of the North Sea decommissioning capability so the companies involved can start to win the international business opportunities as well.

"The whole rationale behind Scotland and the UK's international success is having been able to introduce and hone and perfect their technology or their service or their innovation here in their own backyard. Then, having built up credibility and experience, to take that to international markets.

"The North sea is now very well respected throughout the world as a source of expertise and talent and generally speaking the right way to go about doing things.

"The whole ethos of the way business is conducted here is now seen as a benchmark throughout the world and we hope and honestly believe the decommissioning will be a latest strand of that capability.

"Over the last three years, a number of live projects have gone through very substantial, very robust and very detailed planning, preparation and consideration of all the different options available and those plans are now approved and those projects are moving forward.

"So literally within the course of the next few weeks, we will see yet more major contracts being awarded for some quite headline projects.

"The penny is dropping and encouragingly we are seeing not only an increasing awareness of the industry and in the inevitability and immediacy of the sector, but also a growing interest in the very substantial long-term career opportunities that are in a multiplicity of disciplines."

Brian said Decom had been encouraged by the number of students showing interest in the sector and had helped almost 40 with dissertation projects.

Operators were also starting to including decommissioning in their graduate development programmes.

"That's absolutely where decommissioning lives," he said. "It has to be treated as an integral part of the overall life cycle. In the very early days of the North sea decommissioning was not considered at all. Progressively, over the decades it has been, but not in sufficient detail and sufficient depth as we know it should have been."

Brian said significant effort was put into considering the options and the opportunity to design for decommissioning.

He added: "But it has taken almost a generation to get to that stage. I think it is fair to say that both operators and contractors have, until recently, anyway, found it quite difficult to attract people."

He said that individuals will now have the choice to select from working in new oil and gas build, maintaining existing assets, the emerging decommissioning opportunities, offshore wind or international opportunities - choices he did not have when he started his career with contracting companies.

Originally from Glasgow, Brian is a chartered engineer and was involved in the project management of construction projects, major refinery shutdowns and overhauls and major modification projects before moving into the offshore sector with Motherwell Bridge.

He eventually moved to Aberdeen and was working with Wood Group when he was seconded to the British Embassy in Angola to promote the UK oil and gas industry.

While rewarding, it was not without its unwanted moments of excitement as the civil war was on.

But while expat oil and gas personnel had armed guards and drivers, Embassy staff were left to their own devices.

But he survived and caught the eye of Scottish Enterprise who, after his six month posting, asked him to become Director of Energy, a position he held for eight years.

Brian used to escape from the pressures of business and industry by singing. His mother was acclaimed professional singer Tryphena Nixon and he sang with her choir the New Kilpatrick Singers until her death in 2007. He was also a member of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus for 25 years.

"Singing takes all the pressures away and you forget everything else," he says.

He also enjoys golf but has a busy family life with three married daughters, five grandsons - and another grandchild on the way.

FACTFILE ?There are more than 600 offshore oil and gas installations in the North Sea, 470 in UK waters.

There is 10,000km of pipelines and around 5,000 wells ?90 per cent of these offshore structures will be completely removed and brought to shore for re-use, recycling or other disposal.

Decom North Sea was established in 2010 by Brian and Operations Manager Sarah Hillyear ?Membership has grown from zero to 230.

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In next few weeks we will see yet more major contracts awarded for some headline projects Brian Nixon

CAPTION(S):

Buoyant Brian says potential is huge

Main chance Brian's role is to help UK capitalise on opportunities
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:0NORT
Date:Aug 29, 2013
Words:1223
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