North Sea Oil Rig

North Sea oil sector appeals for more investment to help it decarbonise

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North Sea oil and gas firms will need more investment and “the right long-term energy policy” if they are to continue reducing carbon emissions in line with net zero goals, an industry body has warned.

Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) said that carbon emissions from North Sea oil drilling are down for the third year in a row, matching the industry’s decarbonisation targets.

Last year’s three per cent reduction contributed to a 23 per cent drop in greenhouse gas emissions between 2018 and 2022, according to the latest Emissions Monitoring Report from the North Sea Transition Authority.

“Our challenge now is to ensure the energy sector receives enough investment and the right long-term energy policy to significantly scale up the solutions needed to meet the real challenge ahead; halving emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050,” said OEUK’s sustainability and policy director Mike Tholen.

The current reductions are in line with the sector’s commitments under the North Sea Transition Deal, in which the industry committed to reduce emissions by 10 per cent by 2025, 25 per cent by 2027, 50 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Most of the UK sector’s emissions come from generating the energy needed to power offshore installations, including safety systems, plus electricity and heat for the workforce.

Electrification, where installations are powered by electricity from renewables instead of oil and gas, will be a key factor in reducing such emissions, OEUK said. However, operational changes made by companies so far have meant the industry has now surpassed its 2025 emissions target three years earlier than expected.

While emissions directly produced during oil extraction have been lowered, environmental groups have said this does not account for the vast quantities of carbon being released into the atmosphere from the burning of the fuel itself.

Last year, Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “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.”

In July, Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to issue hundreds of new oil and gas licences in the North Sea as part of efforts to make Britain more energy independent. In order for the new licences not to compromise the UK’s net zero plans, the government also confirmed a raft of new carbon capture and storage (CCS) facilities designed to negate the emissions created by the extracted fossil fuels.

But climate campaigners said that CCS is being used by high-carbon industries to ‘greenwash’ their operations and that carbon offsetting will never be able to absorb the sheer volume of greenhouse gases that will be produced.

“By the mid-2030s, oil and gas will still provide 50 per cent of our energy needs. Putin’s war in Ukraine has shown the risk of relying on other countries for energy, and domestic production on average is four times cleaner than imported liquefied natural gas (LNG). The UK’s homes and businesses cannot yet do without these fuels,” Tholen said.

“That is why it’s vital our North Sea reserves are produced as sustainably as possible, so we can continue to protect the nation’s energy security while reducing our carbon footprint and building the low-carbon energies of the future.”

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