Windfarm development: is it worth the risk?

Across Europe, most countries have a common heritage in terms of UXO threats offshore, as a result of war mines
Across Europe, most countries have a common heritage in terms of UXO threats offshore, as a result of war mines
“By thinking ahead and planning in advance, projects will not be ambushed by UXO discovery.
“By thinking ahead and planning in advance, projects will not be ambushed by UXO discovery."
Industry Database

For most, the aftermath of WWI and WWII is a thing of the past, but for European windfarm developers, it could be more of an everyday risk.

Across Europe, most countries have a common heritage in terms of unexploded ordnance (UXO) threats offshore, as a result of war mines, munitions dumps and sunken ships from World War One (WWI) and World War Two (WWII).

While the threat posed by UXO in the North Sea has been well documented to a certain extent, Simon Cooke, director of 6 Alpha Associates, a specialist risk advisor managing this threat, told Maritime Journal, it’s still very much a problem when it comes to offshore development, particularly windfarm development.

“Sea mines from WWI in UK waters are only found once every 10 years, but that just shows the longevity of the issue. Many more naval mines have been left from WWII and not all were recovered. Anywhere between 30 – 70% were recovered, so they crop up much more frequently,” Mr Cooke explained.

In Europe, munitions have been dumped in France, Germany, Holland and other countries. This is also true in the USA, and vessels have been sunk, leaving weapons and explosives sitting on the seabed.

With offshore renewable energy projects involving turbine installation and cable laying, this UXO could easily be detonated and result in injured crew, sunken vessels as well as incurring delays and excess costs, says Mr Cooke.

Activities like installing monopiles using a jack-up vessel, cable laying with a cable plough, or dropping anchors from anchor handling tugs, could be “catastrophic”, but this can be easily avoided with a desk study, Mr Cooke told MJ.

“The key to windfarms, or any offshore development, is to consider what activities are going to be undertaken and what munitions could be there. A desk study based on archival material munitions criteria should be the first step in any project.”

Most developers undertake a geophysical survey, but things that look like bombs or mines are often benign. So a desk study should pick up any threats, analyse them and highlight what needs to be done to identify and avoid them,” Mr Cooke added.

The company has worked on 45 different renewable energy projects where there has been some level of UXO contamination and has provided UXO consultancy on 45% of UK Round 1 projects, 73% of Round 2 projects, and 78% of Round 3 projects, as well as a significant number of French and German developments.

Most recently, it worked on the Gwynt y Môr site in Wales, where three bombs were found during turbine installation. Vessels were kept off site and an exclusion zone was set up until the bombs could be dealt with, which took a few weeks just to gain permission.

To help developers avoid UXO, 6 Alpha has developed a five-stage risk management framework which advises on preliminary threat assessment, detailed risk assessment, strategic risk management options, detailed design and specification as well as implementation.

“By thinking ahead and planning in advance, projects will not be ambushed by UXO discovery. This can be dealt with cheaply and cost-effectively, but only if it’s thought about early on in the planning process,” Mr Cooke concluded.

6 Alpha Associates delivers consultancy as well as end-to-end project management services globally.

By Rachael Doyle

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