Not being a native of the area, I wasn’t aware that the Brent Delta oil rig had been brought to Able UK’s port at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool to be scrapped. The yard and the firm hit the news a few years ago when it brought a number of old American reserve fleet ships to the yard to be scrapped, followed by an old French aircraft carrier. Worries over asbestos and other contamination threatened to jeopardise the arrangements, but the work went ahead and the vessels were cut up. Able then bid for the work on Brent Delta, the first of the big Brent field rigs to be decommissioned. The 24000 ton top section of the rig was lifted from its position in the North Sea by the giant Pioneering Spirit lift ship and transferred to Hartlepool in May 2017.
As I drove through Middlesbrough I observed that the landscape was like the pages of a Bernd and Hilla Becher book. The dozens of chimneys, cooling towers, chemical works, and goodness knows what else that line both banks of the tees, made spotting this things tricky. But as I got closer, the dense bulk of the oil rig stood out in the flat marshy grasslands to the north of the river. Whereas most of the chemical works are spread out across the horizon, Brent Delta seems condensed.
After I’d parked up on the adjacent industrial estate, and got closer still I noticed that great chunks of it have been torn away. The giant flare tower was felled a few weeks back, however the drilling tower remains, but dwarfed by the 2 gigantic crawler cranes that are being used to lift off smaller sections that have been cut away. To one side lay a giant chunk of crumpled structure, lying below a gaping abyss on the upper decks, like a giant tooth that had been extracted, leaving a bleeding void.
Even in its somewhat reduced state it really is an imposing structure, but how tiny it must have looked in the wild waters off Shetland where it stood for 40 years. It was home for weeks on end for over 100 workers, both workplace and sanctuary against the elements.