To what extent can decommissioning options for marine artificial structures move us toward environmental targets?

Antony M Knights*, Anaëlle J Lemasson, Louise B Firth, Nicola Beaumont, Silvana Birchenough, Jeremy Claisse, Joop W P Coolen, Andrea Copping, Michela De Dominicis, Steven Degraer, Michael Elliott, Paul G Fernandes, Ashley M Fowler, Matthew Frost, Lea-Anne Henry, Natalie Hicks, Kieran Hyder, Sylvia Jagerroos, Milton Love, Chris LynamPeter I Macreadie, Dianne McLean, Joseph Marlow, Ninon Mavraki, Paul A Montagna, David M Paterson, Martin R Perrow, Joanne Porter, Ann Scarborough Bull, Michaela Schratzberger, Brooke Shipley, Sean van Elden, Jan Vanaverbeke, Andrew Want, Stephen C L Watson, Thomas A Wilding, Paul J Somerfield

*Corresponding author for this work

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Switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy is key to international energy transition efforts and the move toward net zero. For many nations, this requires decommissioning of hundreds of oil and gas infrastructure in the marine environment. Current international, regional and national legislation largely dictates that structures must be completely removed at end-of-life although, increasingly, alternative decommissioning options are being promoted and implemented. Yet, a paucity of real-world case studies describing the impacts of decommissioning on the environment make decision-making with respect to which option(s) might be optimal for meeting international and regional strategic environmental targets challenging. To address this gap, we draw together international expertise and judgment from marine environmental scientists on marine artificial structures as an alternative source of evidence that explores how different decommissioning options might ameliorate pressures that drive environmental status toward (or away) from environmental objectives. Synthesis reveals that for 37 United Nations and Oslo-Paris Commissions (OSPAR) global and regional environmental targets, experts consider repurposing or abandoning individual structures, or abandoning multiple structures across a region, as the options that would most strongly contribute toward targets. This collective view suggests complete removal may not be best for the environment or society. However, different decommissioning options act in different ways and make variable contributions toward environmental targets, such that policy makers and managers would likely need to prioritise some targets over others considering political, social, economic, and ecological contexts. Current policy may not result in optimal outcomes for the environment or society.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119644
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date23 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Expert judgement
  • Oil and gas platforms
  • Artificial structures
  • Impact assessment
  • Offshore wind
  • Environmental management


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