Pioneering Spirit Sets World Lifting Record

Pioneering Spirit in the Brent field

The giant offshore installation and commissioning vessel Pioneering Spirit has set the new world lifting record with the successful removal of Shell’s 24,000 tonne Brent Delta platform in the North Sea in a single lift.

Pioneering Spirit’s owner Allseas confirmed the safe and successful completion of the topsides removal operation on April 28.

Located in the Brent field approximately 115 miles off the northeast coast of Shetland, the Brent Delta topsides sat on a three-legged, gravity-based structure in 140 meters of water.

The topsides is now sea-fastened on board Pioneering Spirit for transport to the Able UK decommissioning yard in Teesside, northeast England for recycling and disposal. 

The Pioneering Spirit entered service in 2016 and, by design, has set a number of records. At 382 meters long and 124 meters wide, the purpose-built vessel is the largest offshore construction ship ever built. The bow features a large slot and lifting beams that allow the vessel to straddle a platform and remove entire topsides weighing up to 48,000 tonnes in a single lift. This single lift method is considered a major departure from traditional decommissioning, where topsides are usually taken apart piece by piece.

Pioneering Spirit lining up the Delta topsides. Photo: Allseas

Pioneering is also capable of installing oil and gas pipelines, making it also the world’s biggest pipelay vessel.

Pioneering Spirit moving-in around the Delta topsides. Credit Allseas
Connecting the “yokes”, i.e. lifting beams, to the platform

To connect to the topsides, the Pioneering Spirit uses eight sets of horizontal lifting beams, which are motion-compensated to account for any wind and wave action. You can see the beams in action in the video at the bottom of this post.  

Credit: Allseas
With all yokes connected, the Pioneering Spirit gets ready for the lift by pre-tensioning and deballasting. 

The Pioneering Spirit, which has been rumored to cost about $3 billion, was built in South Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering and arrived in Rotterdam for final outfitting in January 2015. The vessel had been under construction since at least 2010, but its concept dates back nearly three decades and is based on two large tankers placed side-by-side. Allseas founder and CEO, Edward Hereema, who first came up with idea, has called the vessel one of the biggest bets of his career.

Fast lift of the Delta topsides. Credit: Allseas
Lifting of the Delta topsides. Credit: Allseas

The removal of the Brent topsides is one of the main components of the Brent decommissioning project. The Brent Delta is one of four large platforms making up the Brent Field, which has been a cornerstone of the UK oil and gas industry since coming online in 1976. When the field was first discovered in 1971, it was one of the most significant oil and gas find in the North Sea.

At its peak in 1982, the Brent field was producing around 500,00o per day. With around three billion barrels of oil equivalent produced over its lifetime, the field has generated billions of dollars in tax revenue for the UK Government. But after extending of the life of the field well beyond its original 25-year lifespan, Shell made the decision in 2006 to being the process of decommissioning the field, and eventually all four platforms will be removed to shore and recycled. 

Here is some b-roll footage of the lift: