NDC Seminar Series- Optimizing DNA Techniques to Understand How Decommissioning Offshore Oil and Gas Structures Will Impact Marine Life in the North Sea

NDC Seminar Series- Optimizing DNA Techniques to Understand How Decommissioning Offshore Oil and Gas Structures Will Impact Marine Life in the North Sea
2020-07-03

After a brilliant first seminar in March, the National Decommissioning Centre (NDC) held the second seminar in its PhD Seminar Series on 9th June. This time it was my turn, along with two of my fellow PhD students, to explain my project, share ideas and build my network of contacts.  As we are all still working from home, the seminar was held via MS Teams and attracted an audience of 50+, including external members from industry, a regulatory body and a government research laboratory.  

Opened in January 2019, the NDC has funded 7 PhD projects to date. One of the major aims of the NDC is to reduce the cost of decommissioning by 35% (£62M to £40M), through removing, reusing, or recycling offshore oil and gas structures located in the North Sea. Through research and development in chemistry, engineering, economics and biology and developing decision making tools, we hope to play our part in achieving this objective. 

As an NDC PhD student at the School of Biological Sciences, I study some of the environmental impacts of removing offshore platforms from the North Sea. For 50 years of exploitation, concrete and steel structures have provided habitat for fouling organisms. These huge buildings for marine life act as artificial reefs, hosting a valuable biodiversity. Further, the number of offshore platforms has created a giant network across the North Sea. This means that pathways for marine organisms are available between platforms, allowing them to migrate and spread further away.  Whilst facilitating migration helps marine organisms to cope with disturbances, such as climate change, it also helps conservation efforts by connecting marine protected areas, which in total cover 27% of the North Sea surface area. However, these connections might also facilitate the spread of invasive species that could be detrimental for organisms living on the structures or in such protected areas.  

To understand what decommissioning would do to biodiversity and its connectivity, I need to know what actually lives on these offshore structures and how organisms behave between habitats. To do this, I am using exciting new DNA techniques that require deep investigation, validation, and optimization.  In the end, I aim to create a molecular tool to identify, quantify and monitor changes in biodiversity in the North Sea, in a cheap, fast, and reliable manner. The end game is to integrate the project and decommissioning in a more sustainable way to enjoy marine resources. 

I would be very happy to hear from you if you would like to discuss the project further, have ideas you would like to share, or get involved in the project or with the NDC (My university page;  NDC website). 

Until next time, take care and stay informed. 

Published by The School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen

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