Gas flaring

North Sea flaring and venting crackdown results in fresh probe

Image credit: Pichit Boonhuad |

An investigation has been launched into an oil and gas company for flaring and venting in the North Sea without consent.

Venting is the discharging of gases into the atmosphere. Flaring is burning the gases before they are discharged and mainly results in CO2 emissions. Flaring and venting of gases are periodically required for safety and operational reasons, but more can be done to reduce the amount.

The probe by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) could result in action being taken, including a fine for the as-yet unnamed company or the relevant licence being taken away.

Monitoring flaring and venting and reducing emissions are vital parts of the NSTA’s work to help the UK government meet the net zero target. Flaring and venting also wastes gas that could otherwise be used to boost the UK’s energy security.

Compliance with consents is both an indicator of good management of fields by licensees and a vital pillar of a company’s social licence to operate.

Under the NSTA’s official strategy document, licensees have an obligation to assist the Secretary of State to meet the net zero target, while optimising oil and gas production to bolster security of supply. Unauthorised flaring and venting go against this obligation.

Flaring and venting made up 26 per cent of emissions from oil and gas production activities in the UK North Sea between 2018-20, and reducing them will help both to meet the targets agreed in the 'North Sea Transition Deal' and to lower gas waste.

The North Sea Transition Deal commits industry to reduce emissions from production operations by at least 50 per cent by 2030, against a 2018 baseline, on the path to net zero by 2050. Excessive flaring and venting goes directly against this ambition.

Following the revision of its strategy, the NSTA introduced a net zero stewardship expectation in March 2021, requiring operators to show their commitment to reducing greenhouse gases throughout the project lifecycle.

A tougher approach to flaring and venting was subsequently set out in updated guidance, which provided details of the NSTA’s intent to use its consenting regime to drive reductions and, where possible, eliminate both processes.

Jane de Lozey, NSTA interim director of regulation, said: “With our support, North Sea operators cut flaring by 20 per cent and venting by 22 per cent last year. The NSTA is committed to holding industry to account on emissions to ensure progress continues and is prepared to take action where we suspect a company’s actions risk compromising efforts to meet and surpass agreed targets.”

In February 2021, an investigation revealed that North Sea oil and gas firms produce annual carbon emissions equivalent to a coal plant through flaring and venting activities.

Unearthed, a journalistic investigation body funded by Greenpeace, obtained figures through Environmental Information Regulations requests which showed that almost 20 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent were released in the five years to 2019.

In September 2019, data analysis by Brainnwave showed that the amount of natural gas flared by 80 different nations around the world had increased 20 per cent in a single year to the highest levels on record.

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