Decommissioning Close-Up: Expert insight into Gulf of Mexico clean-up

By Phaedra Friend Troy

A family-owned and operated US Gulf Coast oil and gas business since 1947, B&J Martin Inc. has been supplying specialty decommissioning services to the offshore oil and gas industry for more than 20 years.

Employing about 120 full-time Gulf Coast residents, B&J Martin supplies crew boats, utility vessels and Coast Guard-approved offshore personnel quarters to the oil and gas industry, as well as decommissioning services.

Wielding the patented Gorilla Net that is two times stronger than any other in the industry, B&J Martin specializes in the last phase of abandonment, returning the seabed to its natural state by collecting any leftover debris from the seafloor.

In fact, the company has performed more than 1,000 site clean-ups and offers a unique insight into the environmental attitude of offshore operators in the Gulf of Mexico and the recent “Idle Iron” decree from the BOEM.

Earlier this month, the US Interior and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) announced that operators must set permanent plugs in some 3,500 nonproducing oil and gas wells and decommission about 650 unused production platforms in the US Gulf of Mexico.

While any decommissioning expert would perk up to the idea of more work, Beau Martin of B&J Martin takes the “Idle Iron” decree in stride.

“Our industry has done a tremendous job of cleaning up the seabed for the last 20 years,” Beau Martin said. “We’re just going to do more of it now.”

While it may read to an outsider like the oil and gas industry abandoned these facilities, Martin explains that the 650 production facilities included in the decree are really part of other still-operating production hubs.

“The new decree is really just changed language in the abandonment requirements,” Martin said. “Before non-producing platforms could stay if another related platform was still producing. The thought behind it was that the platform would be available for possible future use should another discovery be made.”

While the additional platform decommissioning will certainly help the industry get back to work, Martin doesn’t see that much of an incremental workload increase for his company.

“We’re projecting a small increase because we’re doing this work already,” he said. “We’re building a lot of gear; we’ve reinvested in nets and new boats – in the company – so that we can meet the needs of the clients.”
He explains that it takes “a lot of nets” to clean the ocean’s floor.

Nonetheless, while his company will not be involved in the re-plugging of the 3,500 wells, that work will likely help the job-strapped oil industry. He contends that some out-of-work offshore drilling professionals will be able to transfer their skills to the decommissioning sector.

“In the overall abandonment market, people who work on drilling wells can also work on plugging wells,” Martin said. “It’s going to be a bright spot in the overall oil and gas market.”

Martin stresses that operators have been focused on returning offshore sites to pristine condition for two decades, and that the US GOM is leading the way for the petroleum industry in decommissioning.

B&J Martin has been contacted and consulted operators in other offshore producing regions, such as the North Sea and even Alaska.

“By cleaning up, we’re being good stewards,” he concluded. “The industry has been doing a good job of this for 20 years – this will just increase that activity.” 


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