Current understanding and research needs for ecological risk assessments of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) in subsea oil and gas pipelines

Darren Koppel, Fenny Kho, Astley Hastings, Dean Crouch, Amy Macintosh, Tom Cresswell, Stuart Higgins

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Thousands of offshore oil and gas facilities are coming to the end of their life in jurisdictions worldwide and will require decommissioning. In-situ decommissioning, where the subsea components of that infrastructure are left in the marine environment following the end of its productive life, has been proposed as an option that delivers net benefits, including from: ecological benefits from the establishment of artificial reefs, economic benefits from associated fisheries, reduced costs and improved human safety outcomes for operators. However, potential negative impacts, such as the ecological risk of residual contaminants, are not well understood. Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) are a class of contaminants found in some oil and gas infrastructure (e.g. pipelines) and includes radionuclides of uranium, thorium, radium, radon, lead, and polonium. NORM are ubiquitous in oil and gas reservoirs around the world and may form contamination products including scales and sludges in subsea infrastructure due to their chemistries and the physical processes of oil and gas extraction. The risk that NORM from these sources pose to marine ecosystems is not yet understood meaning that decisions made about decommissioning may not deliver the best outcomes for environments. In this review, we consider the life of NORM-contamination products in oil and gas systems, their expected exposure pathways in the marine environment, and possible ecological impacts following release. These are accompanied by the key research priorities that need to better describe risk associated with decommissioning options.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106774
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of environmental radioactivity
Early online date22 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

This research was funded by the Australian Government's Industry Growth Centre National Energy Resources Australia (NERA) through a National Decommissioning Research Initiative (NDRI) grant to Curtin University. The NDRI project was funded by eight industry partners including Shell Australia, Esso Australia, Chevron Australia, BHP Petroleum, Woodside Energy, Santos Limited, ConocoPhillips Pipeline Australia, and Vermilion Oil and Gas Australia. AH is funded by the University of Aberdeen.
The authors thank Professor Claus Otto (Curtin University) and Professor Richard Neilson (National Decommissioning Centre, Aberdeen, UK.) for comments and support to the project team; and, Andrew Taylor (National Environment Resources Australia), Professor Peter Macreadie, Dr Rick Tinker, and the industry partners of the National Decommissioning Research Initiative for helpful comments to this project.


  • Rigs to reef
  • Decommissioning
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • EIA
  • Sea dumping
  • Artificial reef


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