north sea oil terminal

North Sea flaring activity drops by half in four years

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Flaring in the North Sea has dropped by 50 per cent since 2018, after a 13 per cent drop last year, the regulator has said.

Around one-fifth of emissions from North Sea oil and gas production activities come from flaring, a process used in fossil-fuel extraction which burns excess gases before they are discharged, resulting in CO2 emissions. Venting is the discharging of gases straight into the atmosphere without burning.

Flaring and venting of gases are periodically required for safety and operational reasons, but more can be done to reduce the amount it happens by industry.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said that the savings achieved in 2022 equates to the gas demands of approximately 80,000 UK homes.

This followed four years of reductions driven by “tough measures” to make UK oil and gas production cleaner, such as an investigation into an oil and gas company last year for flaring and venting without consent.

Some flaring is unavoidable for safety and operational reasons, but the NSTA said it had been “consistently clear” that more can be done to prevent the waste of gas which is needed to heat and power homes and businesses.

Tougher guidance was introduced in 2020 stating that all new developments should have no routine flaring and venting, with zero routine flaring across all North Sea platforms, whether new or existing, by 2030 at the latest.

In addition to tracking, monitoring and reporting performance, the NSTA scrutinises operators’ applications for flaring consents and pushes back against requests to increase flaring. It issued £215,000 worth of fines in late 2022.

Hedvig Ljungerud, NSTA director of strategy, said: “It is hugely encouraging to see North Sea flaring cut in half in just four years, something the NSTA has made a priority and which supports both the UK’s energy security and net-zero ambition. Industry also deserves credit for making this progress.

“The NSTA expects reductions to continue and remains firmly focused on both supporting and challenging industry on emissions, including from flaring and venting.”

Nevertheless, the body’s chief executive Stuart Payne recently told Reuters that it will prioritise gas and licensing rounds for companies aiming to bring natural gas to market within months.

The decision is part of the government’s efforts to boost domestic hydrocarbon output in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, although as the gas will be privately owned it won’t directly benefit UK consumers.

An uptick in activity in the region could also see an increase in flaring that could lessen the impact of some of the recent gains.

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