The North Sea Transition Authority is the competent authority for all onshore and offshore well activity including well decommissioning.

Under the licence conditions (model clauses), the licensee must seek permission from NSTA to commence, suspend, or recommence the drilling of any well or to carry out completion or recompletion works, suspend or abandon any well.

Licensees must apply for consent to suspend, abandon and conduct other activities on a well and notify the NSTA of these through the Well Operations and Notifications System.

The NSTA expects wells to abandoned in a timely manner in accordance with our Wells Consents Guidance. The guidance states if the NSTA considers it may be appropriate to consent to an initial suspension, it will generally consent to an initial suspension period of two years. On a case-by-case basis, depending on circumstances at that time, the NSTA may consider consenting to a request to suspend a well for a period longer than 2 years subject to, among other things, submission of a satisfactory detailed well abandonment strategy and plan. In such instances, the period of any such suspensions will be determined by the NSTA and will generally not exceed 5 years.

Well Decommissioning accounts for just under half of the total decommissioning cost. The NSTA has a target to reduce well decommissioning costs by 35-65% by the end of 2022, equating to a target cost saving of £9-18bn compared to the 2017 baseline estimate.

The NSTA Decommissioning Strategy has highlighted the need for Commercial Transformation to deliver cost efficient decommissioning and support a sustainable UKCS supply chain. The NSTA views aggregation of wells into large decommissioning campaigns as a key mechanism to deliver commercial transformation and increase cost efficiencies, helping to meet our target whilst reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with well decommissioning.

The NSTA has provided a central repository for the inactive suspended wells awaiting decommissioning in our UKCS Suspended Wells Web App.

Further information on wells can be found under the wells section of the NSTA website.

Open Letter: Meeting licence commitments to suspend a well

On 1st November 2023, Pauline Innes, Director of Supply Chain and Decommissioning at the NSTA, wrote to licensees reminding them of their obligation to decommission wells in a timely manner. A copy of the letter can be found here.

Key Links

The NSTA also works with industry through the Well Decommissioning Steering Group which reports to the Wells Task Force. The steering group provides strategic direction and oversight to support the government to reach its net zero target and delivery of cost-effective decommissioning.