Thousands of offshore oil and gas facilities are coming to the end of their life in jurisdictions worldwide and will require decommissioning. In-situ decommissioning, where the subsea components of that infrastructure are left in the marine environment following the end of its productive life, has been proposed as an option that delivers net benefits, including from: ecological benefits from the establishment of artificial reefs, economic benefits from associated fisheries, reduced costs and improved human safety outcomes for operators. However, potential negative impacts, such as the ecological risk of residual contaminants, are not well understood. Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) are a class of contaminants found in some oil and gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and includes radionuclides of uranium, thorium, radium, radon, lead, and polonium. NORM are ubiquitous in oil and gas reservoirs around the world and may form contamination products including scales and sludges in subsea infrastructure due to their chemistries and the physical processes of oil and gas extraction. The risk that NORM from these sources pose to marine ecosystems is not yet understood meaning that decisions made about decommissioning may not deliver the best outcomes for environments. In this review, we consider the life of NORM-contamination products in oil and gas systems, their expected exposure pathways in the marine environment, and possible ecological impacts following release. These are accompanied by the key research priorities that need to better describe risk associated with decommissioning options.
- Rigs to reef
- Environmental impact assessment
- Sea dumping
- Artificial reef