August 2020
Special Focus

Digital twinning enables decommissioning to move forward with confidence

As remote inspection gains momentum in the current climate, digital twinning is gaining greater acceptance as a trusted method to reduce operating costs. New data show the benefits that digital twinning can bring to decommissioning.
Dawn Robertson / Bureau Veritas Neil Pickering / Bureau Veritas
Improved asset integrity management is one area where digitalization and digital twinning can be of benefit to oil and gas companies, particularly for visualization of remote, offshore assets.
Improved asset integrity management is one area where digitalization and digital twinning can be of benefit to oil and gas companies, particularly for visualization of remote, offshore assets.

The oil and gas industry is enduring one of the most challenging periods in its history. The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact has significantly accelerated an existing decline in global demand for hydrocarbons, resulting in the lowest oil prices for 30 years. This has left the industry facing the dual challenge of ensuring successful and safe working conditions and practices for employees while maintaining the economic viability of assets.

A recent report from McKinsey & Company1 suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic’s demand disruption, and the glut in oil supply, has generated an unprecedented crisis for the industry. However, the report also adds that today’s challenges represent a catalytic moment to accelerate permanent changes and maximize new opportunities. 

The commercial environment for those companies that successfully exit the current hiatus will be markedly different from when they entered it. The focus on safety, risk avoidance, investor attractiveness and the energy transition will only intensify. To meet these challenges, many companies will be required to revise their operations and business models, to make sure they maximize economic recovery from optimized production performance.

How can operators maintain—or even raise—safety standards and address maintenance challenges while reducing cost? This is a challenge for operators across the world, but the situation is arguably more acute in mature regions. Examples would be the North Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, where relatively high unit operating costs and aging assets combine to create additional financial pressures.

One area that has the potential to present significant opportunities for oil and gas companies is the greater adoption of digital technology, most specifically in improved asset integrity management. For too long, the oil and gas sector has been characterized as slow to recognize the benefits of digitalization, compared to other industries, such as aviation, health care or vehicle manufacturing. Furthermore, where digital technology has been adopted in oil and gas, its value often has not been fully appreciated, as companies have wrestled with an abundance of data without the means to evaluate and effectively interpret it. 

However, with attention focused increasingly on remote operations—to maintain the economic viability of assets, increase safety and reduce risk—the current situation represents the perfect window for digitalization to make a quantum leap from a “want” to a “need.” An aspect of this shift in focus is the growing adoption, and recognition, of the benefits of digital twinning, i.e. the creation of a mirror image of an asset to support integrity management.


At the forefront of this cultural change is Bureau Veritas, a leader in testing, inspection and certification services, which has created a proven and “boxed” digital twinning and smart data management system that is already helping to generate significant reductions in unit operating costs and capital expenditure.

The company’s Veristar AIM3D system was developed in partnership with Dassault Systèmes, which brought years of experience in successfully applying the technology to other industry verticals. It provides a true, as is, four-dimensional picture of an asset’s condition instantly, everywhere on any platform or device, at any time.

Veristar AIM3D (VAIM3D) combines a digital twin of any marine or offshore asset with smart data. The system has been deployed successfully on a range of offshore assets, from hull structures to topsides equipment. It improves visibility and understanding of the asset, allowing operators to make the right choices faster, to improve efficiency, safety, integrity, performance, return on investment and carbon footprint reduction. 

The digital twin links to a comprehensive asset integrity management database and collaborative platform that will interface with any system the asset owner might have. It is designed specifically not to replace existing infrastructure and can be accessed by all personnel that have been granted permission. The model, which provides a 360o view, is updated constantly throughout the asset’s life. Any changes made within the systems that it interfaces with are immediately reflected in the VAIM3D twin. 

Through its integral project management module capability, the model allows shutdowns and turnarounds to be optimized, significantly reducing planning time and eliminating contingency in estimates, often as high as 30%. It also allows the preparation of maintenance and modification work packs to be done remotely. It assists in the execution of and preparation of maintenance and inspection reports, and the results are automatically visualized in the twin to reflect the asset’s real condition. 

Furthermore, the model helps operators anticipate issues, easing the move toward predictive asset management, and bringing with it reductions in operational costs, inspections, maintenance and repairs. Bureau Veritas, working with one of its clients, has estimated that digital twining is reducing hull maintenance costs (OPEX) by 25% over five years.


Fig. 1. Digital twinning can benefit operators significantly by minimizing the need for personnel at remote locations, or even completely de-manning assets.
Fig. 1. Digital twinning can benefit operators significantly by minimizing the need for personnel at remote locations, or even completely de-manning assets.

One way to significantly reduce unit operating costs and increase safety is through maximizing the amount of work that can be undertaken remotely. In this respect, digital twinning can provide significant benefits by allowing operators to minimize personnel or even completely de-man assets, Fig. 1. 

For remote operations, or where assets have been de-manned, the monitoring of equipment has traditionally been an expensive undertaking. Such projects historically involved significant design work, cabling, junction boxes and other adaptations to ensure the system worked. However, the introduction of 4G or 5G connectivity has significantly reduced such costs, allowing data to be fed back into the digital twin and enabling a rapid assessment of equipment or asset integrity.

The impact of COVID-19 has led to a significant increase in the demand for, and the adoption of, digital technology for remote inspection, surveys and verification purposes. For example, in May this year, Bureau Veritas reported a 900% rise in demand for the remote inspection of offshore assets and equipment since the outbreak of the pandemic. Bureau Veritas was well-placed to respond to this demand, due to its remote offering already having been established. To support this rapidly growing demand, and in line with its vision toward the fully smart oil field, the company has embarked on an ongoing program of increasing the number of its remote survey centers worldwide.


With the benefits of a digital twin system well established in cutting maintenance costs, maintaining safety and performance, and extending asset life, Bureau Veritas then considered its benefits to the decommissioning sector.

Fig. 2. Among roughly 460 assets on the UKCS and Irish Sea, around 70% are jacket structures, 25% are subsea installations, and 5% are hulls (as in FPSOs). Of these assets, 36% are either at, or approaching, cessation of production (CoP) or decommissioning.
Fig. 2. Among roughly 460 assets on the UKCS and Irish Sea, around 70% are jacket structures, 25% are subsea installations, and 5% are hulls (as in FPSOs). Of these assets, 36% are either at, or approaching, cessation of production (CoP) or decommissioning.

Taking the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) and Irish Sea as an example, there are approximately 460 assets, of which around 70% are jacket structures, 25% are subsea installations, and 5% are hulls, Fig. 2. Of these assets, 36% are either at, or approaching, cessation of production (CoP)—the very end-of-life phase—or decommissioning. Therefore, decommissioning is now a reality in the sector and as such presents a high number of challenges to the industry. The asset portfolio ranges from single-riser platforms to complex, concrete deepwater structures and everything in-between. Approximately 130 of these assets already have been through the decommissioning and removal process; however, it would be fair to say that none of these operations, thus far, have been straightforward.

It was assessed that the value from digital twinning could be realized across a range of spheres, including environmental, societal, wells, the asset, and regulatory requirements. Digital twinning was identified as a method of improving the definition of work scope, the quality of proposals and execution efficiency, while lowering estimated and actual costs. 

Real-time digital twinning of any asset has the capability and capacity to allow desktop engineering studies and work scope development to take place. From this, standardized work practices, reporting and benchmarking can be delivered. This represents a clear benefit to the decommissioning manager, who wants to deliver a project in the simplest, most cost-effective and compliant way; attract the highest-quality engineers to the project; and manage individual and corporate reputations. A digital twinning solution that delivers a one-stop shop for accurate asset data, to inform decommissioning planning and best processes, and simplifies and prioritizes data in its entirety, can provide comfort and assurance in decision-making.

The current industry challenge is to ensure that decommissioning work is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, while helping to deliver the UK industry’s cost-reduction target of 35% for decommissioning. A digital twin can provide a true representation of the asset at its “end of life,” which can be shared with everyone involved to enhance visibility of the project in hand. The twin also can deliver time-savings in the engineering works and support the project in becoming “removal-ready” quicker. Innovative removal solutions can be explored, due to the increased visibility of the asset in existing current state, the versatility of the twin, and the ability to simulate removal. 

Benefits for the supply chain include: the provision of a mirror image of an asset that everyone can view and estimate against the “as it is” information; mitigation of inconsistency across tenders; the elimination of additional cost, due to access and egress issues on site; a compilation of accurate engineering work packs with minimal requirement for site visits; more fixed price certainty, and the opportunity to evaluate alternative scenarios, approaches and technologies.

From a safety perspective, digital twinning enables virtual simulation to run hazardous activity without a physical presence and, thereby, eliminate or mitigate risks. It also allows familiarization with an asset prior to the mobilization of personnel.

A practical example of this is on-leave personnel preparing to return to work. Significant changes can occur to a decommissioning project during a two- or three-week on-leave period, including alterations to the site layout and lifeboat positioning. Considerable offshore time can be saved, if personnel are able to review an up-to-date digital twin of the asset in an onshore environment to understand the changes that occurred during their leave period, prior to mobilization. 

Fig. 3. Within maintenance programs, digital twins can establish better visual understanding of priority work.
Fig. 3. Within maintenance programs, digital twins can establish better visual understanding of priority work.

Similarly, recently appointed senior personnel, such as a new offshore installation manager or superintendent, can use a digital twin to walk through the asset virtually. This allows them to obtain a comprehensive understanding of all aspects before even boarding a helicopter. Therefore, by the time they arrive on site, they know the exact position of everything on the asset. Furthermore, by creating the opportunity for the deployment of less personnel onboard, the potential impact from at-risk situations is reduced correspondingly.

A digital twin allows a greater advanced understanding of the laydown and storage of plant and equipment offshore; links into Permit to Work (PTW) systems; and the simulation of access and egress from hazardous operations for personnel. In the UK, a run-down of the safety case through visualization reduces the requirement for the Health and Safety Executive to make onsite visits.

Furthermore, a digital twin can establish a better visual understanding of priority work within maintenance programs, Fig. 3. This enables the operator to more accurately risk-rate projects, so that priority can be given to those areas with a higher ongoing maintenance requirement than others. Such enhanced visibility can, therefore, support maintenance cost reduction by eliminating unnecessary routine work on adequately functioning equipment.

By providing a visualization of risks through simulation and respective mitigation, digital twinning can provide insurers and underwriters with a better understanding and visibility of the risks and control measures being taken. A greater appreciation of the decommissioning project may, therefore, help insurers in understanding risk evaluation and assist in driving down premiums. Indeed, insurers have suggested such increased visibility could remove a zero from the cost of premiums.

For operators, digital twinning represents an opportunity to reduce costs through optimization, efficiency gains, collaboration and the potential for improved relationships with regulators and the broader supply chain. The broader values to the industry include a standardization of approach and processes; a reduction in carbon footprint through fewer site visits and better scheduling of vessels; the ability to manage across a portfolio of assets simultaneously; potential economies of scale; and the simulation of a range of infrastructure and topsides assets.

One example of the benefits of deploying a digital twin is in supporting the planning for cessation of production (CoP). Once the CoP date is known, a digital twin can be developed and deployed to remotely manage the wind-down of activity and all aspects of the decommissioning process. The digital wind-down may involve assessments of how to make some of the asset’s systems redundant, or isolated, or how best to remove capital pieces of equipment for future sale.

Having the confidence that the dimensions of the twin accurately reflect those of the actual asset, all planning and decommissioning preparation can be completed, supply chain members are able to plan activities in advance, and down-manning or other manning changes can be put in place. Enabling the supply chain to “see” beforehand the required work scope, and “walk” the asset, increases understanding and enables them to increase the accuracy of project cost estimates by reducing unnecessary financial contingencies. It also optimizes the window of downtime between CoP and asset decommissioning/removal, including vessel movements in and out of the field, disconnections and plugging and abandonment (P&A).

Furthermore, the digital twin enables virtual visualization of the asset’s dismantling, allowing engineers to discuss the process in advance with simulation of the destruct, weather input, sea states etc. This avoids any hold-up of vessels, due to poor weather and a back-up of the supply chain. 


Bureau Veritas discovered that by using its digital twin and smart data system, operators could save between 9% and 15% on total decommissioning project costs. For clarity, these figures do not include the benefits of standardization to decommissioning, safety savings, insurance savings, reduced HSE requirements or carbon footprint reduction in the 9% project cost reduction estimates.

Bureau Veritas spent several months collating detailed data, which were reviewed by UK industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, showed operators could save in excess of £2 million on project costs for assets with topsides of 10,000 tonnes. This increased to more than £8.5 million for assets with topsides up to 40,000 tonnes. 

Fig. 4. According to Bureau Veritas, 54 North Sea assets, with topsides of 10,000 to 40,000 tonnes, would benefit from using a digital twinning system to gain direct savings in decommissioning.
Fig. 4. According to Bureau Veritas, 54 North Sea assets, with topsides of 10,000 to 40,000 tonnes, would benefit from using a digital twinning system to gain direct savings in decommissioning.

Furthermore, following several months of data gathering and refining, it was identified that savings from 9% to more than 30% could be made for a range of decommissioning activities, including topsides and jacket removal (14% and 11%, respectively), subsea infrastructure (19%), facilities de-energizing (more than 30%), operator costs (15%), onshore recycling (10%) and site remediation and monitoring (10%), to deliver direct savings on total project costs.

Taking the figures for subsea infrastructure as an example of how the percentage reductions were achieved, the value generation on future deployments was identified as a 19% cost reduction on the work breakdown structure (WBS) for infrastructure removal. This is based on a 15% reduction on vessel costs (typically these account for 80% of the WBS subsea infrastructure costs) and a 35% cost reduction in the remaining 20% of the subsea infrastructure WBS activities. This includes planning, managing removal, weight assessments (cost of goods), geographical positioning of subsea items, simulation of removal, and sequencing optimization. 

Bureau Veritas has identified 54 North Sea assets (Fig. 4), with topsides of 10,000 to 40,000 tonnes, that would benefit from using a digital twinning system to gain direct savings in decommissioning. It also has identified 35 assets of fewer than 10,000 tonnes, which would benefit from the use of a digital twin in late-life operations, through to decommissioning phases.

With decommissioning as a hard cost on a balance sheet, the need for efficiencies and cost reduction is clear, as outlined in the Oil and Gas Authority’s Decommissioning Strategy. The results from Bureau Veritas indicate digital twinning could save millions of pounds on overall project costs and enable operators to make smarter, more cost-effective choices.

The future for the greater adoption of digital twinning is positive, and demand is growing. It is possible that, due to the need for social distancing as a result of COVID-19 and the reduction in offshore personnel, digital twinning may become established as the prime component of remote operations within the next two years. Bureau Veritas has developed bespoke systems for several operators and is considering projects for the digital twinning of topsides decommissioning and an entire subsea field.

Like any system, a digital twin is only as good as the information fed into it. Pricing structures and construction time usually reflect the complexity of the asset, but it will nominally take anywhere from three to nine months for an immediately deployable twin. The technology deployed is well-proven across a number of industries and generates operator trust by providing much greater visibility and understanding of the asset. One instant benefit of enhanced asset visibility is data rationalization. Where previously low-quality information could exist within a system for years, the construction of the twin allows poor data to be identified immediately. As a basic example, if the digital twin of a four-legged asset only has three legs, this instantly highlights a very visible deficiency in available data.

A digital twin also enables the identification of areas with insufficient or excessive data and an improvement in the type and quality of data available. The common response from the industry to increased digitalization and the adoption of digital twins has been: “I’m not sure our company is ready for this.” The response to this now needs to be, “If not now, then when?” 

At this time, as the industry recoils from the double-blow of COVID-19 and a low commodity price, and while we have a trusted and proven way to reduce unit operating costs, can companies continue to afford the luxury of indifference, particularly when their very survival may be at stake?


  1. McKinsey & Company: “Oil and gas after COVID-19: The day of reckoning or a new age of opportunity?”
About the Authors
Dawn Robertson
Bureau Veritas
Dawn Robertson holds an MBA, achieved in 2015, and a BA (Hons) degree from Robert Gordon University. She is a qualified and experienced senior manager/director, with over 15 years of strong commercial and business improvement experience. Currently, Ms. Robertson is the Global Business Development Director—Offshore & Services for Bureau Veritas. She also is the Decommissioning Leadership Group chair and Board vice chair of Decom North Sea.
Neil Pickering
Bureau Veritas
Neil Pickering has over 30 years of oil and gas industry experience and has undertaken various roles throughout his career. Graduating from Durham University Business School in 1997, he moved into senior management roles. His most recent roles are technical director, Operations & Maintenance; V.P., Assurance, and currently, Head of Business Development & Sales, North Sea Offshore Operations with Bureau Veritas. Mr. Pickering is a chartered manager and fellow of the Chartered Management Institute and a board member.
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