Heat turns up on flaring and venting of greenhouse gases
The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has expanded its benchmarking to the flaring and venting of greenhouse gases on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) for the first time – detailing flaring and venting activity levels in the North Sea and the resulting contribution to UK oil and gas greenhouse gas emissions.
In a report, the OGA says that the volume of gas flared and vented in offshore upstream oil and gas production in 2019 was equivalent to three percent of all the natural gas produced during the year. While some venting (the discharging of gases into the atmosphere) and flaring (burning gases before they are discharged) is unavoidable for safety and operational reasons, more can be done to reduce this number, it adds.
Flaring alone currently makes up a quarter of all UK offshore and gas production related CO2 emissions and represents 1 percent of total UK annual CO2 emissions in 2019. Venting produces less than 1 percent of UK offshore oil and gas CO2 emissions, but is responsible for approximately half of all offshore methane emissions, representing a similar amount of the total UK annual methane emissions (as of 2018).
“The OGA is looking to take a robust stance on flaring and venting - through its consents, field development process and project stewardship. While it is encouraging to see a fall in volumes flared and vented, we believe there are clear opportunities for industry to go further to advance cleaner production," says Hedvig Ljungerud, OGA Director of Strategy.
The OGA issues consents for flaring and venting of gas on extant licenses and is exploring tougher measures as part of this process, to eliminate unnecessary or wasteful flaring and venting. As part of the authority’s commitment to integrating net zero considerations into its work, it is aiming to closely scrutinise operator flaring and venting requests – in both existing production and in new field development plans.
The introduction of benchmarking of flaring and venting data aims to drive improved performance across industry, it adds.
“Our benchmarking has already been proven to raise performance levels in other areas, such as production and decommissioning cost efficiency, enabling operators to learn from good examples set by others and allowing us to focus our attention and interventions in the right areas,” Ljungerud explains.
While the report acknowledges inconsistencies in assessment standards and calculation methods, recognising this as a key area of work going forward, findings of the report include:
- 42 billion standard cubic feet of gas (bcf) was flared from offshore facilities in 2019
- However, the volume of gas flared last year was a 4 percent reduction from 2018, the first annual reduction since 2014
- 7 bcf of gas was vented on the UKCS in 2019 from offshore facilities. This was a 34 percent reduction from 2018
- In 2019, on the UKCS 114 standard cubic feet of gas was flared for every barrel of oil produced (scf/bbl). This measure has fallen for two consecutive years and is 12% percent down from 129 scf/bbl recorded in 2017.
The OGA adds that good practice already being shown by the industry includes some operators looking at eductors – specialist pumps – to minimise flaring, and there is evidence that many are prioritising flare/vent volumes as key performance measures in their day-to-day operations.