From the archives: Arup posits sustainable future of resurrecting oil rigs

by Helena Morgan
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This month on Facility Management we’re revisiting some of our most popular articles from the last year. Today, we reflect on Arup’s 2023 World Architecture Festival entry ‘Rethinking Oil Rigs – Offshore Data Centres’. Arup encouraged the built environment to think of oil rigs – now associated with a damaging carbon-centric epoch – as promising locations for offshore data centres.

An unlikely location for data storage and economic growth

Oil and gas rigs’ days are numbered in a climate-conscious world that welcomes the redundancy of fossil fuels and finite materials. Oil rig structures used for extracting and processing these materials will inevitably become defunct.

There are more than 500 platforms in the North Sea – mainly slotted between the UK, Denmark and Norway – destined to be decommissioned over the next 30 years. Arup proposes that 15 percent of those 500 platforms could be reused for carbon capture and simultaneously fulfil global goals to revive the economy of the North Sea by 2050.

Underwater structures such as oil and gas rigs can support ecologically vital ecosystems, such as those in the North Sea’s coral reef habitats. Harm to the ecology and marine species can be avoided if marine life is allowed to naturally inhabit the surfaces of existing rig structures.

Springing off the success of its project at WAF, Arup is encouraging the built environment world to brainstorm ways to inject these structures with new purpose amid a constantly evolving circular economy.

Award-winning proposal

Led by architect Sergey Lutsenko, Arup’s project took out the highly coveted titles of ‘WAFX Award – Overall Winner’ and ‘WAFX Award – Reuse Winner.’

The design proposes an offshore data ‘superstructure’ – complete with cranes and heavy-duty machinery, solar panel sails, an ad hoc climbing frame grid servicing the installation of the data centre functional components and a landscaped rooftop, helipad and power-generating ‘surface lily pads’.

‘Rigs to Reef’

The North Sea’s floor is home to telecom fibre cables that used to service now decommissioned oil rigs.

There is a golden opportunity for biodiversity enhancement and sustainable economics lying at the sea floor. These telecom fibre cables can be transformed into ‘artificial reefs’ and future sites for connecting data centre networks fuelled by wind-powered plants, tidal waves and sea motion-based energy farms.

North America offers hope for the success of revamping oil rigs. The continent’s ‘Rigs to Reef’ initiative in the Gulf of California sees companies repurpose oil rigs into artificial reefs to nurture marine life. There are currently 27 former oil rigs off the coast of California that are home to hustling and bustling biological activity.

Overall, Arup’s award-winning project is a testament to the ingenuity and experimentation required when designing for positive social and ecological impact.

Renders supplied by Arup.

Read more about Facility Management attending last year’s World Architecture Festival. 

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