Belgium’s Elia recently completed construction of its own power hub in the North Sea

North Sea oil and gas industry ‘on track’ to meet emission reduction targets

Image credit: Elia

The latest Emissions Monitoring Report shows that greenhouse gas emissions were slashed by an estimated 14.6 per cent to 14.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) last year.

The North Sea oil and gas industry is on track to meet early emissions reduction targets, according to a new analysis from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).

The organisation, formerly known as the Oil and Gas Authority, said the sector posted cuts of more than one-fifth between 2018 and 2021, adding up to an overall reduction of 21.5 per cent since 2018.

However, NSTA pointed out that this rate might not be enough to meet the government's goal of halving emissions by 2030, a target that would require undertaking "bold" measures. Among these measures, the upgrading of platforms to run on clean electricity, rather than gas or diesel, is considered “essential”.

Without such action, targets agreed as part of the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD) will not be delivered, NSTA said. It also described meeting these targets as the “absolute minimum” the organisation expects from the oil and gas industry. 

“The industry has made impressive progress on reducing emissions during a turbulent period marked by a global pandemic and unprecedented price volatility," said Dr Andy Samuel, chief executive of NSTA. “Energy security is more sharply in focus than ever and the NSTA is working closely with industry and government to bring new oil and gas projects online and bolster UK energy supply. This vital work sits alongside emissions reduction goals.

“The NSTA will continue to hold industry to account to make sure it delivers on, and surpasses, its targets."

Some of the effects of rapid industry action to support emissions reductions and energy security can already be seen in instances such as the declining trend of flaring since 2018. According to Samuel, the reductions achieved in 2021 alone were equivalent to the annual gas demand of 130,000 UK homes.

However, environmental campaigners believe this transition has not been done at a fast enough pace, and have accused the authority of focusing “solely on the emissions from producing UK oil and gas”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland criticised the report for failing to mention “the far greater amount of climate changing pollution from burning the oil and gas”.

“The North Sea Transition Authority might want to pat itself on the back but they are fiddling while the planet burns," said campaigner Ryan Morrison. “Their focus on the emissions from getting oil out of the ground intentionally ignores and obscures the far greater climate impact of burning the oil and gas that is produced.

“Both climate science and energy experts are crystal clear that there can be no new oil or gas developments if we want to stay within the agreed limits of global temperature rises, no matter how much the industry tinkers around the edges of North Sea emissions.”

In 2021, the UK government published a long-awaited “leading” strategy for the country to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, in light of rising energy prices and historically-high inflation rates, new Prime Minister Liz Truss has recently unveiled a  “bold plan” to cut taxes and grow the UK economy and promised to “deliver” when it comes to the energy crisis by not only dealing with bills but also addressing the long-term supply issues.

In addition to freezing energy bills, Truss’s package drifts away from investment in renewable technologies and includes instead the launch of a new oil and gas licensing round, which is expected to lead to more than 100 new licences for fossil fuel extraction from the North Sea.

Offshore oil and gas exploration began in the North Sea during the 1950s, providing a new source of energy and jobs for the country. Since exploitation began, more than 40 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BOE) have been produced from the North Sea, according to the industry regulator the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA).

Earlier this year, the UN’s Environment Programme warned that any plans to expand fossil fuel projects over the next decade would be severely out of line with ambitions to cut greenhouse gas emissions and limit temperature rises to 1.5°C. 

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