The Brent field, operated by Shell, lies off the north-east coast of Scotland, midway between the Shetland Islands and Norway. It is one of the largest fields in the North Sea and is served by four large platforms – Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. Each platform has a ‘topside’ which is visible above the waterline and houses the accommodation block, helipad, as well as drilling and other operational areas. The topsides sit on much taller supporting structures, or ‘legs’, which stand in 140 metres of water and serve to anchor the topsides to the sea bed.

Brent Size Comparison

When the Brent field was discovered in 1971, it was one of the most significant oil and gas finds made in the UK sector of the North Sea. At that time the expected life span of the field was 25 years at the most. Continuous investment and a redevelopment in the 1990s by the field’s equal partners, Shell and Esso Exploration and Production UK (Esso), have extended the life of the field well beyond original expectations. Since production began in 1976, two thirds of the revenue generated from the field has been paid to the Government as tax – amounting to more than £20 billion.



To date, the Brent field has produced around three billion barrels of oil equivalent. At its peak in 1982 the field was producing more than half a million barrels a day. Its production that year would have met the annual energy needs of around half of all UK homes.

Decommissioning The Brent Field

Now, after many years of service to the UK, the Brent field is reaching the stage where almost all the available reserves of oil and gas have been retrieved. The next step in the lifecycle is to retire or ‘decommission’ the Brent field’s four platforms and their related infrastructure. This will be a complex, major engineering project and will take over ten years to complete. It follows the decommissioning of other operators’ platforms in the North Sea with some 40 programmes submitted to the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) so far. This is the body that regulates the decommissioning of offshore oil and gas installations and pipelines in the UK. Shell is now carefully planning the Brent field’s decommissioning process following a tightly defined regulatory process. Our task is to find a way to carry out this work that will:

  • ensure the safety of people working on the project
  • have minimal impact on the environment
  • be technically achievable
  • consider the impact on affected communities, and
  • be economically responsible.

We will make our final detailed recommendations on how best to decommission the Brent oil and gas field when we are confident the proposals are safe, technically achievable, environmentally sound and financially responsible.