There is much discussion today regarding the best ways to decommission, to deactivate, the rigs used in the oil and gas exploration and production process, as most of them are approaching or are already at the end of their useful life.

The discussion around decommissioning is relevant considering the numerous technical and legal impacts that the process can have. It is therefore essential to conduct it in accordance with the best practices observed around the world.

According to the IHS Markit Offshore Decommissioning Study Report,[1] about 600 offshore units worldwide will be decommissioned over the next five years and decommissioning spending is expected to increase by approximately US$ 2.4 billion in 2015, to US$ 13 billion per year by 2040.

In Brazil, more than 160 offshore units are in operation, according to the ANP (National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas, and Biofuels), and 67 of them have been operating for over 25 years. Within this universe, there are 74 fixed platforms scheduled to be deactivated. In approximately 20 cases, the report to the ANP has already been sent and the decommissioning is already scheduled starting in 2020.

Considering the high cost of decommissioning an oil rig and the increased need for this service, it is expected that the process will attract investments from companies operating in this area in the coming years, which should generate new business and jobs.

Given this, it is essential to discuss the legal impacts arising from decommissioning in different scenarios: regulatory, environmental, tax, and also labor, since the process requires the use of skilled labor.

Evaluating decommissioning from the strictly labor point of view, we believe that Law No. 5,811/72 is applicable to employees who will render services in this area. This is because, as is well known to those who operate in the industry, this legislation contains various provisions for employees who work on platforms, such as the possibility of remaining on board for up to 15 days, among other rules that distinguish employees of this industry from others, which use the Consolidated Labor Laws (CLT) as the sole form of regulation.

Without this law, the exploration and production of oil and gas in Brazil would be practically impossible, due to the adversities and peculiarities of the activities involved.

In this sense, considering the challenge in the rig decommissioning process, which prevents employees from coming and going on the same day, as would be the case with any regular worker in another industry, the application of the rules established by Law No. 5,811/72 are of paramount importance in carrying out the activities provided for.

Article 1 of the law states, however, that it applies only to employees “who provide services in exploration, drilling, production, and oil refining, as well as the industrialization of shale, the petrochemical industry, and transportation of oil and its derivatives through pipelines.”

Based on an isolated analysis of the legal provision, it would not be possible, therefore, to ascertain its applicability to employees who will provide decommissioning services, as this activity is not explicit in the text. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze the issue together with the technical standards issued by the regulatory agency, the ANP.

According to article 1 of ANP Resolution No. 27/2006, which regulates the decommissioning of facilities used for exploration and production, this process is part of the oil production phase: “The Technical Regulation defining the procedures to be adopted in the decommissioning of facilities and specifying conditions for the return of concession areas in the production phase is approved.”

Thus, considering that the agency responsible for issuing technical standards related to the exploration and production of oil and gas in Brazil expressly relates decommissioning to the production phase, it may be concluded that the process is covered by Law No. 5,811/72, since, as specified in its article 1, the legislation applies to employees who also work in this stage of the production chain.

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