With an eye on catering to growing renewable energy and decommissioning markets, the port of Aberdeen has undertaken the largest marine infrastructure project in the UK
A transformation is underway at the Port of Aberdeen. Often called the “Oil Capital of Europe”, the Port of Aberdeen has long been established as a vital oil and gas marine support base for the North Sea. In 2018, 4,545 OSVs made calls at the port which is home to the UK offshore marine support function for 20 energy-related companies. North Sea offshore activity also makes Aberdeen’s airport the busiest heliport in the world.
Now, a growing trend towards larger, multi-purpose vessels, emerging opportunities in the renewable energy sector and decommissioning of aging oil and gas infrastructure is driving new investment at the port.
In 2017 the Aberdeen Harbour Board undertook an ambitious £350M (US$444M) expansion project, located in Nigg Bay, to the south of the existing harbour. Of national significance for Scotland, the expansion is the largest marine infrastructure project underway in the UK, and the largest single investment project in the history of UK Trust Ports.
Construction is now beyond the mid-way point and, on schedule, South Harbour is due to open in 2020. The expansion will create 1,400 m of quayside and a water depth of 15 m. Vessels of up to 300 m – double the length of vessels in the existing harbour – will be able to berth alongside, and use the 125,000 m² of laydown area available. This vastly increased capacity will improve the port’s ability to support growing industry sectors, such as North Sea decommissioning and offshore renewables.
“The harbour, which will become the largest port in Scotland in terms of berthage, is uniquely positioned to meet the changing needs of our core energy customers,” says Aberdeen Harbour Board chief executive Michelle Handforth, adding, “We have made radical changes to our business model, which will unlock a huge amount of potential for our existing and prospective customers.”
Michelle Handforth (Aberdeen Harbour Board): “Aberdeen Harbour is ready to become the international energy port, and we will do this by adaption and matching our customers’ changing needs”
The size of South Harbour will meet the demands of the energy sector by accommodating larger vessels which have previously been unable to enter the harbour. The longest vessel accommodated in the harbour in 2018 was 168 m in length. The expansion will allow 300 m vessels to berth in the harbour.
“By 2030, the Scottish government plans to produce 50% of its heat, transport and electrical needs from renewable energy, making offshore wind critical to the country’s future energy needs”
This combination of capacity and location will be complimented by improved connectivity, with the port in close proximity to an international airport and immediate national rail and road connections.
According to Ms Handforth, the South Harbour has been built with “innovation and future-proofing at its very heart,” and this is being installed into various aspects of the existing port. The port can be segregated into self-contained working areas in terms of drainage and waste management, allowing customers to operate without importing risk from other port users. The harbour’s “Green Port Team” is also looking at a range of options to not only make the port as self-sustaining as possible, but also to allow customers to cut their own carbon footprint, via alternative fuel sources and ship-to-shore power.
Ms Handforth says: “With all of the expansion work ongoing, we are not only talking to new potential customers, but are fully committed to supporting our existing customers and investigating how our new facilities might represent a growth opportunity on many levels.”
Bellwether for North Sea activity
The harbour is often seen as a bellwether for oil and gas conditions, and the recent increase in activity signals an industry which appears to be turning a corner. In 2018, the existing North Harbour saw 9,226 vessel arrivals – more than a third of which were OSVs and dive support vessels (DSVs). The port’s vessel tonnage increased by 3%, cargo tonnage by 5% and DSV arrivals increased by 26% – a figure which has been widely acknowledged as a particularly healthy sign.
More than 10,000 tonnes of decommissioned material crossed Aberdeen’s quaysides in 2018, from projects including the Maersk Leadon and Janice, Shell’s Brent Alpha and Nexen’s plug and abandonment programme, and 2019 is set to be another busy year.
By 2030, the Scottish government plans to produce 50% of its heat, transport and electrical needs from renewable energy, making offshore wind critical to the country’s future energy needs.
The port plans to position itself as a primary staging port for offshore wind projects. 2018 saw the arrival of 18 wind turbine blades, 21 hub sets and 21 nacelles to the port, all destined for the onshore Dorenell Wind Farm on the Glenfiddich Estate. Once completed, the windfarm will host 59 wind turbines and be one of the largest onshore windfarms to be built in Scotland. The £300M (US$380M) European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre is Scotland’s largest offshore wind test and demonstration facility. Wind operator Vattenfall has also signed a 24-year lease with Aberdeen Harbour, becoming the first offshore wind operator to invest long-term in the port’s facilities. Vattenfall’s 11 wind turbines off the coast of Aberdeen have attracted much attention since the offshore windfarm generated first power in 2018. The specially-built jetty at Commercial Quay East frequently welcomes vessels which support the ongoing maintenance of the site.
“The size of South Harbour will meet the demands of the energy sector by accommodating larger vessels which have previously been unable to enter the harbour”
Ms Handforth says: “We cannot ignore the changes taking place within the energy industry. Aberdeen Harbour’s record – especially within the decommissioning and renewables industries – is impressive, but with South Harbour, we can drastically increase our work in these sectors and influence the UK’s energy future”.
In conjunction with Scotoil, Aberdeen Harbour has supported Maersk Supply Service as it works to recover and remove subsea infrastructure from the field. Subsea Christmas trees weighing 48 tonnes, 32-tonne manifolds and ballast blocks weighing 136 tonnes each are just some of the items brought into Aberdeen Harbour in connection with the decommissioning of Total’s (previously Maersk Oil) Leadon field in the North Sea.
Aberdeen Harbour operations manager John McGuigan says: “Aberdeen is the heart of the energy industry and, with our established supply chain and experience supporting oil and gas customers, it makes the port the natural spot to support growing decommissioning industry. We can see this being reflected in our recent decommissioning activity levels.”
Concludes Ms Handforth: “Aberdeen Harbour is ready to become the international energy port, and we will do this by adaption and matching our customers’ changing needs. This is an exciting time for the port, and a unique time in the harbour’s 900-year history.”