Abandoned Offshore Installations in Southeast Asia and the Opportunity for Rigs-to-Reefs

Posted: 19 Mar 2013

See all articles by Youna Lyons

Youna Lyons

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for International Law; Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security

Date Written: March 19, 2013

Abstract

Of the 1350 fixed offshore oil and gas platforms recorded in Southeast Asia, over 800 may be over 20 years of age and thus nearing the end of their planned operational lives. This raises issues with regard to the rules applicable to their decommissioning. Should they be entirely or partially removed, or is it permissible for them to be left in situ? This paper discusses the application of the current international legal framework for offshore decommissioning in Southeast Asia. It focuses on three aspects of the existing international legal regimes that are problematic in the context of Southeast Asia.

The first aspect discussed is the application of the 1989 IMO Guidelines and Standards for the Removal of Offshore Installations and Structures (the 1989 IMO Guidelines). One particular difficulty created by these Guidelines in the context of Southeast Asia results from the specific treatment they reserve for smaller offshore installations located in shallow waters. These must be entirely removed unless extreme conditions are met. Given the geography of Southeast Asian seas, this exception applies to the majority of old platforms located in this region. This paper presents the view that these IMO Guidelines may not need to be applied strictly in Southeast Asia.

The second aspect pertains to the extent of the application of the standards set by the 1972 London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution from the Dumping of Waste and Other Matter (the 1972 London Convention) to coastal States that have not ratified this Convention. This paper explores the respective scope of the obligation of removal of offshore installations and of the rules on dumping. It also discusses whether abandonment can be interpreted as an act of dumping. This is of particular relevance for abandoned and disused offshore installations located in territorial seas and archipelagic waters where the 1989 IMO Guidelines do not apply but the 1972 London Convention may apply. For abandoned installations located in the EEZ and on the continental shelf, this paper discusses the combined application of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea, the 1989 IMO Guidelines and the 1972 London Convention. It discusses the differences in the objectives pursued by each instrument and the differences in the interests vested in the institutional authority, to propose ways to combine the application of otherwise contradicting provisions.

The third aspect is the opportunity for the re-use of disused offshore installations as artificial reefs to enhance marine biodiversity and fisheries in the seas of Southeast Asia. This paper highlights the legal justification for a rigs-to-reefs solution based on sound science. Such a solution is particularly suited to the biologically diverse and highly productive seas of Southeast Asia, which are subject to numerous anthropogenic and climatic stresses. It has the potential of assisting with the re-establishment of destroyed reefs and in ecosystem resilience building. As a result it can only be supported by rules of international law for the protection of the marine environment.

Keywords: law of the sea, pollution of the sea, dumping at sea, offshore installation, climate change adaptation, biodiversity

Suggested Citation

Lyons, Youna, Abandoned Offshore Installations in Southeast Asia and the Opportunity for Rigs-to-Reefs (March 19, 2013). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2235529 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2235529

Youna Lyons (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Centre for International Law ( email )

Block B, #02-01
469 Bukit Timah Road
Singapore, 259776
Singapore

Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security ( email )

University of Wollongong
Wollongong, NSW 2500
Australia

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