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Cables and Pipelines

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In this sector fiche, there will be an emphasis on communication and energy cables as well as oil and gas pipelines. Cable-laying or pipeline-laying vessels are excluded from this sector fiche analysis.

Basic facts

  • State of the sector: Growing [1],[2]
  • Presence across sea basins: Dispersed throughout all sea basins [2],[3]
  • Land-Sea Interaction occurs through their connection to onshore energy and communication terminals
  • Activity happens throughout the year
  • Lifetime of Installations is between 20 to 50 years for pipelines and 40 to 50 years for grid cables. Communication cables have a technical lifetime of 25 years
  • Conflicts especially with extractive uses (i.e. marine aggregates, oil and gas extraction, fishing, etc.)

What are the present spatial needs of the Cables and Pipelines sector?

Pipelines and cables are either locked in physically to a specific location between the field of collection and the point of delivery or seek to take the direct route between two connection points [4]. Re-allocation prior to their laying onto the seabed is possible, but difficult and costly [5].

As for offshore wind energy and nearshore wave and tidal devices cables, the International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) recommends that existing cables in shallower waters (up to a depth of 75m) are given a default 500m exclusion zone on either side. The actual distance will vary between Member States [6].

Similarly, energy cables might require space for their laying [7], bundling (by parallel routing) [8], energy transformation (at the transformer substation platform) [9], interconnection (at grid interconnector sites) and cross connection (at cables crossing areas).

As for pipelines, a default 500m exclusion / reserved zone on both sides exists [10]. Also inside the protected zone (1000m at both sides), no sand extraction may take place and no other pipelines may be placed [11].

Which anticipated future developments of the industry are relevant to MSP?

Development of offshore sectors(renewable / oil & gas / aquaculture) and the need to connect to terrestrial infrastructures 

Due to the increasing importance of offshore wind turbines, there is a growing demand for submarine power cables for the transport of energy to the mainland. As such, the share of power cables will increase due to the installation of offshore wind turbines [12].

New routes and exploration areas

Polar Regions are being selected for new submarine cable builds [13]. Low latency cables are planned to connect the UK to Japan by installing a cable across the Arctic Circle above Canada through the North-West passage.

Increase in Hybrocarbon imports

Dependence on hydrocarbon imports will remain not only important, but will increase [14]. In this scenario context, oil and gas pipelines ought to increase too [15], especially for gas pipelines as “natural gas remains a fundamental part of the transition to a low carbon economy”  [16].

Technology advances in cables

More projects are being proposed that require longer, deeper, and higher capacity cables [17]. In addition, Europe is setting out to create an additional direct current grid structure for the future HVDC underground cables can safely transport high power loads over long distances with minimal losses. In addition to this transport efficiency, fewer cables are required to carry the required capacity, hence allowing narrower trenches.


Infrastructure scheduled for decommissioning in the North Sea includes: more than 200 platforms - complete or partial removal; around 2,500 wells; close to 268km of pipelines [18] and in excess of 3,000km of abandoned cables [19]. Removal is desirable as old cables and pipelines can impede other uses of the seabed, such as sand extraction or installation of wind turbines [20]. At the same time, decommissioned oil and gas platform could also be used for CO2storage. If it takes place at sea, then extra pipelines might need to be installed.

Recommendations for MSP processes in support of the sector

More trans-national level MSP coordination

Due to the trans-national character of the sector, more coordination and cooperation between national authorities should be required to increase the existing opportunities for further harmonization over regulations, licensing requirements and data sharing across countries [21].

Integrated offshore energy grid

The cables sector could foresee promoting interconnection, offshore meshed grids and coordinated designs as a first steps towards an integrated offshore energy grid, specially for the more ambitious RES scenarios [22].

Parallel routing

As maximum bundling, as possible by parallel routing. To promote efficient use of space, electricity cables, telecommunications cables and pipelines should be bundled to the fullest extent possible [23].
Enhance sector synergies:Despite synergies with other maritime uses and the Cables and Pipelines Sector exist, these should be further enhanced (e.g. use of the submarine 3D topographic mapping and surveying data for environmental conservation, archaeological purposes, etc.).

For more information

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[1] Chesnoy, J. (2016). Undersea fiber communication systems. Amsterdam: Academic Press.

[2] Nies, S. (2011). Oil and gas delivery to Europe: An Overview of Existing and Planned Infrastructures. The French Institute for International Relations (Ifri): Paris.…

[3] TeleGeography Submarine Cable Map (n.d).

[4] Bjørnmose, J., Roca, F., Turgot, T., Smederup Hansen, D. (2009). An Assessment of the Gas and Oil Pipelines in Europe. COWI. 

An Assessment of the Gas and Oil Pipelines in Europe

[5] APEC (2012). The Economic Impact of Submarine Cable Disruptions.

[6] Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council IV. (2014). Protection of Submarine Cables Through Spatial Separation.…

[7] Bjørnmose, J., Roca, F., Turgot, T., Smederup Hansen, D. (2009). An Assessment of the Gas and Oil Pipelines in Europe. COWI.

An Assessment of the Gas and Oil Pipelines in Europe

[8] Government of the Netherlands. (2015). Policy Document on the North Sea 2016-2021 (printversie): Including the Netherlands’ Maritime Spatial Plan appendix 2 to the National Water Plan 2016-2021.

[9] BSH- Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie / Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency. (2014). Spatial Offshore Grid Plan for the German Exclusive Economic Zone of the Baltic Sea and nontechnical Summary of the Environmental Report 2013.

[10] Vanbavinckhove, G., Rumes, B., Pirlet, H. (2015). Energy (including cables and pipelines). In: Pirlet, H., Verleye, T., Lescrauwaet, A.K., Mees, J. (Eds.), Compendium for Coast and Sea 2015: An integrated knowledge document about the socio-economic, environmental and institutional aspects of the coast and sea in Flanders and Belgium. Ostend, Belgium, p. 115-136.

[11] Verfaillie, E., Van Lancker, V., Maes, F. (2005). Analysis Chapter 2: Infrastructure in the BPNS Cables and Pipelines. In Maes, F., de Batist, M., Van Lancker, V., Leroy, D., Vincx, M. (eds.). GAUFRE: Towards a spatial structure plan for the Belgian part of the North Sea.

[12] Boston Consulting Group (n.d).

[13] HSU, J. (2016). An Internet Cable Will Soon Cross the Arctic Circle. Scientific American.

[14] Cambridge Econometrics (2016). A Study on Oil Dependency in the EU: A report for Transport and Environment. Cambridge: UK.…

[15] GlobalData. (2016). H2 Global Length and Capital Expenditure Outlook for Oil and Gas Pipelines. Report ID: 357694.

[16] IOGP (2016). Europe Exploration and Production Trends 2016.

[17] Navigant Research. (2015). Submarine Electricity Transmission.

[18] Oil & Gas UK. (2017). Decommissioning Insight 2017. The UK Oil and Gas Industry Association Limited.

[19] Government of the Netherlands. (2015). Policy Document on the North Sea 2016-2021 (printversie): Including the Netherlands’ Maritime Spatial Plan appendix 2 to the National Water Plan 2016-2021.

[20] Ibid

[21] Navarrete, M. (2015). The missing links and possibilities for further harmonization of procedures. Presentation at the NSCOGI Conference, Ostend, Belgium.…

[22] Gazendam, J. (2015). First steps towards an integrated offshore grid. Presentation at the NSCOGI Conference, Ostend, Belgium.…

[23] See ESCA Guideline No.6.