Research

Investigation: “Significant” methane emissions recorded at UK onshore oil sites

Researchers have discovered significant emissions of methane, the powerful and invisible greenhouse gas, at onshore oil sites across England.

Oil well at IGas’s Glentworth site, 8 October 2021. Photo: CATF

The emissions were detected earlier this month by Clean Air Task Force (CATF), an international climate NGO. It used infra red imaging cameras to document the emissions on visits to onshore oil sites across seven counties.

The results, published today, just over a week before the start of critical Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow, revealed methane emissions at 14 of the 17 sites visited.

Methane accounts for at least a quarter of global warming since pre-industrial times and levels in the atmosphere are rising faster than ever. It has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide in the short-term, so reducing methane is critical to slowing climate change.

The sites where emissions were recorded were operated by IGas, Egdon Resources, Horse Hill Developments Limited and Perenco, some of the biggest names in the UK onshore industry.

Some of these sites were among the most recent to go into production onshore in the UK. Others had inactive wells and were no longer producing oil.

Methane, which is sensitive to infrared light, was detected coming from vent pipes and stacks, hoses, pipes, pumps, valves, separator tanks, tank hatches and, in one case, the well head itself.

CATF called on the UK government, the Cop26 host, to turn promises on methane emissions reductions into action as soon as possible. “True climate leadership is achieved by actions, not words”, it said.

Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency said there must be rapid cuts to methane emissions at oil and gas sites to meet climate targets.

This week the European Parliament approved a strategy to reduce methane emissions and called for improved leak detection at oil and gas sites.

The UK onshore industry has said it “takes great care to avoid flaring and venting natural gas [methane] wherever possible”. Its trade body, UK Onshore Oil & Gas (UKOOG), says on its website:

“it is in the best interests of operators to be as efficient as possible so that they can deliver as much natural gas as possible to their customers.”

But according to the CATF findings, at least 10 of the sites visited this month were using cold venting techniques and had been permitted by regulators to release all gas associated with oil production.

The organisation found significant methane plumes at Larkwhistle Farm, Glentworth 1, Horndean X, Beckingham 1, all operated by IGas.

Infrared footage from Perenco’s Kimmeridge site. Video: CATF

 There was significant venting at Perenco’s Kimmeridge site, the oldest continuously producing oil well in the UK. DrillOrDrop reported more than three years ago that this well was legally releasing hundreds of tonnes of methane a year into the atmosphere. At the time, the Environment Agency told us many existing sites in England were venting gases produced during oil extraction.

James Turitto, the super pollutants campaign manager at CATF, recorded the footage. He said he had filmed emissions at more than 250 European sites and defined significant emissions as in the top 20%.

He said:

“Considering that cutting methane pollution is our best bet to avoid significant warming in the next 20 years, it’s spectacular how much natural gas is being released into the atmosphere. In the middle of a gas crisis, it shows these companies have little regard for either the cost to the climate or costs to British citizens.”

What was recorded where?

Beckingham 1, Nottinghamshire (IGas): Significant emissions from two vent pipes on a separator and high concentrations of methane downwind

Infra red footage of IGas’s Beckingham 1 site in Nottinghamshire. Video: CATF

Beckingham 5, Nottinghamshire (IGas): Fairly large emissions from the wellhead

Beckingham 8, Nottinghamshire (IGas): Methane emissions apparently from pipe infrastructure on the side of the well pad – unable to visualise

Beckingham 41, Nottinghamshire (IGas): Emissions from the hydraulic pump of an inactive well

Folly Farm, Hampshire (IGas): Small but continuous source of methane emission

Glentworth 1, Lincolnshire (IGas): Four sources of methane and other emissions, from pressure release valves of the separators. There was also a small leak from one of the wellheads

Glentworth East, Lincolnshire (IGas): Significant methane emissions from the central relief vent and emissions from the separator tank

Horndean B, Hampshire (IGas): Significant methane emissions from central relief vent and emissions from a separator tank

Horndean X, Hampshire (IGas): Significant emissions from a vent stack

Infra red footage from IGas’s Horndean X site. Video: CATF

Horse Hill, Surrey (Horse Hill Developments Limited): Five sources of methane and other gases from three separator tanks, connection hose and unlit flare at one of England’s newest production sites

Kimmeridge, Dorset (Perenco): Significant methane emissions from two vents on the separators

Larkwhistle Farm, Hampshire (IGas): Significant venting of methane and other gases from the central stack and all six separator tanks

Singleton, West Sussex (IGas): Four sources of methane and other gases from closed tank hatches on the separator tanks

Wressle, North Lincolnshire (Egdon Resources): Emissions from at least one separator tank at one of England’s newest production sites but the researchers were asked to leave before they could fully document the source

The sites where no emissions were recorded did not necessarily have no emissions. They were often highly secure or surrounded by trees and difficult to get close to, CATF said.

Responses

DrillOrDrop invited all the site operators to comment, along with the industry organisation, UK Onshore Oil & Gas (UKOOG), and the Environment Agency, which regulates emissions from oil and gas sites in England. Only Perenco and Horse Hill Developments Limited responded.

A Perenco spokesperson said:

“We are operating the Kimmeridge site within all regulatory permits and consents, and report the monitored emissions every six months.

“Perenco is committed to reducing emissions and is currently in the process to decrease the venting of gas significantly from the Kimmeridge site. 

“A project is well underway to recover, compress and export gas to a third party facility and construction will be completed in 2022.”

Horse Hill Developments Ltd said in a statment:

“Horse Hill Developments Ltd operates Horse Hill in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, in accordance with its regulatory permits and consents.

“The site is regulated by Surrey County Council, Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and Oil & Gas Authority, who make frequent inspection visits to the site and respond to any complaints from the public that they receive.

“We note that an EA report released this week states clearly that the use of optical camera assessment often results in ‘high expanded uncertainties’, saying the cameras cannot detect the difference between different gases. Therefore, the risk of misinterpretation renders this CATF report questionable. 

“The inadequacies of the methodology used by CATF are illustrated by the fact that the report does not indicate how much methane has been released. We would also like to point out that we have not been allowed sight of this report.

“HHDL will always investigate any operational and environmental matters and implement any necessary regulatory actions where appropriate, but we prefer to respond to accurately obtained data using robust scientific methods.”

CATF filming

CATF said it used a FLIR GF320 camera, the industry standard in identifying emissions, leaks and events at oil and gas sites. The organisation said the equipment had been calibrated and independently tested to detect and visualise the presence of at least 20 gases. It is primarily a qualitative tool; it cannot quantify emissions.

CATF also said it used a methane gas analyzer to confirm the presence of high concentrations of methane at some sites.

James Turitto is a certified ITC Level 1 Infrared thermographer. His previous footage has been published by Reuters, Bloomberg, Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, La Repubblica, RAI, ANSA, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, among many others.

CATF said of HHDL’s statement:

“No OGI [optical gas imaging] camera can indicate exact volumes of methane emissions, so any suggestion that the footage CATF should be doing so is irrelevant. What CATF’s footage shows is that best practices are not being upheld. This is by no means an indictment of the Horse Hill operator – rather, it is a pattern we observe for all oil and gas operations that we have investigated. Self-regulation is an unsuccessful route to the reduction of methane pollution, so it is past time for policymakers to step in.”

The research, carried out from 4-22 October 2021, also found significant methane emissions at National Grid gas transmission compressor stations in Chelmsford and Kings Lynn. They were potentially super-emitters and were some of the largest the organisation had seen after visits to more than 200 sites in 12 countries.

CATF said it would put videos from the UK filming on its website.

International action

The European Union and the US agreed in September 2021 to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030. This  global methane pledge will be launched at the Cop26 climate talks.

Jonathan Banks, international director, super pollutants, at Clean Air Task Force, said:

“The UK has an opportunity to become a world leader in cutting methane pollution. They have helped spearhead the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 and are making the right noises on tackling the biggest low-hanging fruit in climate policy. But these images show that promises must be turned into action as soon as possible. True climate leadership is achieved by actions, not words.”

CATF said it saw an opportunity to help governments around the world converge around the need to address methane emissions.

It has been collecting evidence of methane emissions from oil and gas facilities across Europe:

“With a major announcement on methane just around the corner at COP26, uncovering evidence of methane pollution in the UK and across Europe is designed to drive action from policymakers sooner rather than later.”

The organisation said there were low-cost technologies and practices that would reduce emissions:

“The oil and gas industry is the largest industrial source of methane emissions, almost all of which could be solved at negative to marginal costs given the proper incentives.

“The EU (plus Norway and Great Britain) represents the world’s 7th highest oil and gas methane polluter and is also the world’s largest importer of natural gas and one of the top importers of oil.

“Through carefully constructed methane policies, Europe could cut its domestic methane footprint and also issue standards with incentives and verification approaches for imported gas to reduce emissions from key suppliers— Russia, Norway, Algeria, Qatar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and others. “

Onshore monitoring

This week, the Environment Agency (EA) published a report on techniques for quantifying methane emissions at onshore oil and gas sites, unlike the qualitative work done by CATF .

On optical gas imaging (OGI), the EA said:

“The potential use of OGI to determine whole-site emissions would require a detailed campaign to measure all components or functional elements or sampling of components and extrapolation to the whole site. This would lead to high expanded uncertainties in whole-site methane emission rates.”  

It also concluded there was high uncertainty with other technique: air quality towers, solar occulation flux (SOF), mobile measurement and satellite.

22 replies »

  1. “…..since all the carbon dioxide we exhale originated in carbon dioxide captured by plants during photosynthesis, we are not disturbing the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere by breathing.”
    Joe Schwarcz 20 March 2017 McGill Office for Science and Society. “Why isn’t the carbon dioxide from breathing a concern for global warming?” The department’s logo includes the inspirational mission “Separating Sense from Nonsense”. Looks appropriate as a warning for those arguing with Phil for the sake of it.

    • Cheers Iaith1720. Thanks for the information. I will follow that up.

      I promised myself sometime ago not to return to Drill or Drop since other far more serious events were much more demanding of my time and attention. That still remains the case.

      However the petrochemical industry one sided equation hot desk crew produce so much fake news and misinformation that exposing the inadequacy of cherry picking out of context isolation of issues without explaining the real world context that contradict the produced fake narrative, is too important to remain unchallenged at his time.

      The petrochemical industry is steadily accelerating the green washing claims and increasing the out of context fake news in order to attempt to skew the entire narrative away from the serious issues in the lead up to COP26.

      “Separating Sense from Nonsense” is spot on Iaith1720.

      • Well, it is Paul.

        7 billion people, moving rapidly to 10 billion, breathing out carbon dioxide, and requiring the space 7-10 billion require-so they clear forests and thus reduce carbon being captured, and eat loads of stuff containing carbon that they then release-is a bit more concerning than Adam and Eve breathing out a little CO2 and not requiring any trees to be cut down-well, not until they discover fire, or have picked all the low hanging apples.

        Volcanoes are just the same. A few big ones and indeed the CO2 is a problem for global warming, one little one, perhaps not.

        Arithmetic again-sorry, I know it is best avoided but it is always there. Indeed, I heard a quote recently about the “exhilaration of solving an equation” I agree with that-far more constructive than moaning when unable to do so.

        Words in an article are no different to other forms of communication. Rubbish in, produces rubbish out. It does not have to produce rubbish minds. Some effort may be required to separate out the Homers, and the carbon and the CO2, but minds are improved if that happens.

  2. E-G:

    You are still correct. Humans exhale more carbon dioxide than they breath in. A well known and important fact to most people, including school children who learn the carbon cycle (and how to spot fake news) and especially submariners-who also know that more carbon dioxide is exhaled if individuals panic, and have drills to reflect that. Humans will still keep doing that even when they are starving. That could be an interesting question for a school study-very little carbon in but carbon out. (Decay.)

    I checked the comment you made. It was pretty specific, not shrouded in any fog, and was correct. It specifically referred to CO2 not carbon. I have not found any deviation from you into the life balance on the planet.

    Homer and doughnuts is an amusing example, and unsurprisingly, it is a common phenomenon with the Internet being a tool for an alternative form of “education”. [Edited by moderator] I can stop panicking about that now, and reduce my CO2 output, and await-hopefully-some more years to return my carbon content to the earth, when my breathing has ceased and I am no longer producing carbon dioxide. Perhaps, I will do CCS and make sure it is stored as a diamond! That process is possible but a little heavy upon energy input. I think I will stick to Cornish crabs being the recipients to use, and store for a while.

    • Meanwhile, back in the real world….was someone actually doing some “giggling” to “check” Eli Goth’s comment? Oops! Always good to break the habit(s) of a lifetime isnt it?

      And still cherry picking by isolating one issue from the real world and only going on and on and on and on about that one thing hoping that no one would notice the desperate isolation so most will walk away bored to….life.

      Still no mention of the proved 1 in 5 FF deaths, and the sixth ELE conundrums? Oops again!

      Strange “check” or was that a “cheque”? Since the comment from Eli Goth was far from “specific”, although the fog may have been internally generated, or perhaps from anthropogenic climate change or CO2?

      Eli Goth’s statement was not, however correct. The grammar alone is poor, somewhat inaccurate and perhaps deliberately generalised. since breathing in, creates no carbon dioxide, nor do certain aquatic and anaerobic living creatures breath in the same way.

      Breathing still does not “cause” Carbon Dioxide. The metabolism of an air breathing living system, however, does. Though the terminology would be more accurately stated as “An air breathing, inspirating and expirating creature allows by its own metabolism to bond oxygen and carbon in a 2 to 1 ratio called “oxidation” into a form called carbon dioxide, so as to allow the unwanted element to be expelled from the body lungs and other excretory functions”. Correct terminology creates clarity doesnt it. Generalised limited words only lead to inexactitude.

      There was no mention of the term “CO2” in fact the written words were “Carbon Dioxide”, not the chemical shorthand “CO2”.

      https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/breathing

      Carbon is also an intrinsic constituent of “Carbon Dioxide”. Strange to say, but true. So was clearly stated as “Carbon” Dioxide. Not Nitrogen Dioxide. The “Dioxcide” part only indicates that the “Carbon” atoms are oxidised by two atoms of oxygen each. In fact, if percentages are what is so vital to some in this conversation. A Carbon Dioxide molecule contains more Oxygen, than Carbon? Two to one in fact. Now isn’t that interesting? Carbon Dioxide contains more Oxygen then Carbon by a factor of 2 to 1! “Curiouser and Curiouser, said Alice”?

      As for “deviation” from Eli Goth “into the life balance on the planet”? Only a living breathing metabolism is intrinsic with the act of “breathing” at all, one cannot “breath, or “inspirate” or “expirate”, (medical terminology) unless one is alive and an air breathing being with a working living metabolism. A vital necessity in order to separate out inspired gasses from each other and expel ingested carbon as an oxide.

      That vital living process cannot exist without an ecology and climate capable of supporting air breathing beings. The body needs to be alive and fully functioning for respiration to exist at all. Breathing cannot be separated out or “deviated” from the entire natural life ecology and supporting structure of climate temperature and living systems respiration processes.

      Since one could simply deflate and inflate an animals lungs if there is no living breathing metabolism to biologically and electro-chemically extract what is required and expel from the living system what is to be exhaled, be that stored from a living natural bodies natural ingestion, respiration, or metabolism processes. It would be just like a bellows. What goes in, comes out unaltered, unenhanced, unoxidised, and unsynthesised.

      Glad “we” sorted all that out at last. Tut! Tut! I just did a “we”!

      Enjoy!

      Enjoy!

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