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.


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. Thank you Ruth for being willing to “burn the midnight oil”,(yes,I know!), to draw attention to this pollution, local and planetary. The days pass, the pollution gets worse, denial tactics are ramped up, countries attempt to subvert the conference, yet the polluters bemoan their exclusion from Cop26.The co-director of the Grantham Institute is reported yesterday as remarking “Be under no illusion, decarbonisation at the level we need to avoid dangerous climate change will be opposed….by a number of people, companies and nations that benefit financially from fossil fuels.” (Guardian.Oct. 22). “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” (Churchill) On the brighter side, public awareness of industry’s evasive tactics seems to be growing and to be appropriately resented.
    Let us press our local political leaders to insist the UK do more, and do more more honestly, to ensure Cop26 does not fail the world.

  2. Last time I visited Kimmeridge there were many beef cows wandering around the place-producing methane- and my ex colleague who was a regular skin diver in the Bay reported that all through his many years of diving within the Bay, gas could be clearly seen bubbling up from the sea bed to the surface. (He used to joke about the risks of wayward munitions from the tank ranges causing a chain reaction!)
    I also note the science classes are still being taken there and “Sir” or “Miss” are routinely showing the kids how the rocks along the shore can be lit!

    Perhaps controlled extraction of fossil fuel from the area might reduce the levels of leakage?

    Actually, the methane leakage question might be better addressed by comparing UK on shore levels with levels from sites over the horizon developed in order to export oil to UK.

  3. So it’s ok for UK to have methane leaking because other countries do ? That is the worst argument you have ever given Martin. Should we start beheading people because the Taliban do ?

  4. Answer your own statement, Jono. I did not make it.

    However, perhaps you could explain whether your plastic keyboard is okay, at the same time.

    Seriously, if you actually believe many overseas sources apply anywhere near the same standards as the UK, (have a chat to Jack!) and you believe transport emissions are not then added to bring that oil/gas to UK, then your argument may hold water-but, it won’t because that is fantasy.

    Visiting 250 sites around Europe without dialogue with the operator, producing emissions, and then reporting about emissions is an interesting job! I suppose it has it’s rewards, and would be a lot easier than visiting other parts of the world and trying to measure. In which case, comparison is indeed very difficult, but it doesn’t mean that it should not be part of the consideration. If I purchase UK produced meat, I do not expect that no animals died during rearing before they were processed for my plate, but I can check and see if less did so than same meat produced overseas. Part of animal welfare, and why many UK farm shops do a good trade. Choices are rarely between the perfect and the flawed, usually between less than perfect and flawed. Strangely, Jono, there are those who wish to crowd fund the support for the flawed over the less than perfect, and then try and claim they are attempting to make a difference! I wonder how much cash would be available to UK on shore oil/gas sites to improve their house keeping if they were not spending cash defending legal challenges, that their overseas competitors do not have added to their costs?

  5. Martin Frederick Collyer

    With the gasses naturally leaking into the atmosphere from the rocks and under the sea where it was formed in large volumes we are likely better in the long term to harvest and process it than let it create more global warming.

    The irony of the report was that it was only UKOG who picked up on the ineffectiveness of the camera in assessing quantities of the gas which are monitored by the EA and local authority to be within acceptable regulatory levels which leaves the article as another over exaggeration.

    Had this experiment been carried out on imported fuels or gases I’m sure the emissions released would be higher even without considering the emissions to import it.

    Maybe oil and gas should be promoted as locally produced as with other local products and be considered for its qualities not just its negatives, putting some pride back into a valuable UK industry in this period of transition to net zero.

  6. Yes, MH, I like the idea of a little tractor type emblem for UK produced oil/gas!

    Would be quite appropriate-as most little tractors are fueled by red diesel. Perhaps it could be borrowed from the farmers?

    On a separate, but linked, issue. I can understand the emissions of methane when sites have little gas to utilize. However, surely then one of the solutions would be simply to encourage sites to scale up rapidly so that the gas became significant and warranted early installation of appropriate equipment to generate electricity? Strangely, looking at the recent decision in E. Yorks that is not the direction of travel. It might be interesting to see how much is emitted as an indirect result of the antis activities in such respects Together with the levels of emissions that were measured at KM and attributed to their presence, it may be quite significant.

  7. Spot on Martin!

    Had it not been for all the challenges and hold ups at Horse Hill it may already have been developed with the gas to wire already in place, contributing to the UK economy.

    It just goes to show that the protesters, NIMBY’s and imported oil and gas have a lot to answer for in UK emissions and local production would be best, bring on the tractor or maybe a little red oilrig.

    • Wrong Eli Goth!

      Breathing, or to use the correct term, respiration, does not “cause” carbon dioxide at all. The suggestion is bizarre to say the least.

      In fact breathing draws in atmospheric gasses, which consist of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, >1% argon, other rare gasses >1%, 0.04% carbon dioxide, 0.5% water vapour.

      When any fauna that breathes in air (creatures that live in water or are semi aquatic absorb oxygen from H2O via gills or other structures). Land based creatures however inhale the same mixture of gases contained in the atmosphere. No animal can filter out the oxygen from other gases. Any more that they can filter out pollution, be that by natural causes or anthropogenic artificial sources.

      All living creatures that breath air use some of those gasses to absorb oxygen into their blood streams. No carbon dioxide is “caused”. Carbon dioxide is only expelled by breathing out, after breathing in the same constituents in air in the first place. Only gasses that are inhaled can be exhaled, no gasses are “caused”. The differences in amounts inhaled and exhaled are due to the body of the animal utilising energy and gasses to break down the gasses in order to extract oxygen, and exhale the excess.

      In general, breathing out produces nitrogen which makes up the bulk (78 percent) of the air that humans breathe in and out, considering human bodies have no use for it. Second place belongs to oxygen (21 percent in, 16 percent out) and at a distant third carbon dioxide (0.04 percent in, four percent out). Other trace elements exist in exhaled air, such as argon (0.09 percent both ways, again because humans don’t use it). Fauna also exhale water vapour, a by product of cellular respiration, at a rate that varies depending on the person, their health and other factors.

      So, no breathing does not “cause” carbon dioxide, only exhaled as an unwanted gas which had to be breathed in in the first place.

      Of course if the animal or human being is unlucky enough to be breathing unprotected close to an oil or gas facility vents and operations. That will inevitably “cause” the animal or human being to breath in more carbon dioxide, and other gasses, such as methane and various poisonous chemicals. If the animal or human being is then able to survive the experience, it will breath out as much of the the excess poisonous gasses as possible. But the experience will of course lead to varying degrees of toxicity and perhaps serious respiratory and other health problems if the experience is extended beyond individually tolerated limits.

      Don’t try that at home by the way, or indeed at any other location without the requisite proscribed, approved and certified respiratory gear preferably with an oxygen supply and or a sealed and checked hazmat suit…..

      You have been warned.

      Have a Nice Day.

      • Now, children, if 0.04% is in and 4% is out, how many times is exhalation greater than inhalation?

        Please remember during your calculation that carbon is not a gas-until it becomes carbon dioxide. There may be a clue there.

        Plant some trees and the carbon can be converted from the CO2 into carbon within the tree and the oxygen released.

        • P.S. children:

          The carbon cycle:

          Ultimately, everything that is organic, or living, gives its carbon back to nature either through respiration (eg. humans) or through death and decay. This recycling and reuse of carbon is known as the carbon cycle. Sorry, children, you can not opt out of that and live.

          So, children, if you don’t understand that, do not become a submariner, otherwise you may quickly find you are not in the “either” group but the “or” one.

        • It seems a lesson in metabolism is required?

          It may help you to read the explanation I supplied, but good question anyway.

          I said:

          “The differences in amounts inhaled and exhaled are due to the body of the animal utilising energy and gasses to break down the gasses in order to extract oxygen, and exhale the excess.”

          Animals and living forms have a metabolism which breaks down wanted and unwanted absorbed elements in order to grow and extract elements and gasses to have energy to maintain a strong metabolism. Metabolism involves breaking down inhaled and ingested ​materials be that animal vegetable and mineral, also from exposure to sunlight which breaks down constituent elements to use for the conversion process and expel the rest. the magical factor is sunlight

          Nothing is wasted, not even carbon dioxide, or carbon from other forms. Nothing can be evacuated that wasn’t already there by inhalation or from food which absorbed or breathed carbon dioxide previously.

          Nothing is wasted. In fact animals including human beings absorb and excrete in a process which is deliberately balanced in nature. It is human anthropogenic activity which attempts to overturn the balances in nature and creates an unstable imbalance that creates rapidly accelerating instability for the entire planet.

          That accelerating instability has “caused” the sixth major extinction of all life on the planet and has led to 1 in 5 deaths of human beings and presumably animals as well being caused by fossil fuels and their uses.

          I noticed a strange silence still persists on that 1 in 5 deaths being proven to be caused by fossil fuels from someone I see. No change there.

          I repeat: Breathing, or more accurately respiration cannot ’cause’ carbon dioxide to be made or “caused”. The constituent elements have to be already there. In particular with carbon dioxide, from oxygen and carbon, one atom of carbon bound to two atoms of oxygen, or from respiration during which carbon dioxide is already inhaled. The body merely concentrates that which is already there and releases it into the lungs. Hence the increase in figures. Simple arithmetic really….or mathematics if you wish to include the entire range of sciences, physics and living animal metabolism processes.

          Like I sad:

          “The differences in amounts inhaled and exhaled are due to the body of the animal utilising energy and gasses to break down the gasses in order to extract oxygen, and exhale the excess.”

          That pre-empted the question presupposing it was not read when it was posted.

          In order for carbon dioxide to be exhaled, both carbon and oxygen have to be absorbed by ingestion and processed to be exhaled. Be it from plants or animals that were used for food by the animal and further broken down by sunlight and stored energy in the animal.

          So first and foremost the important result of the respiration process, is that more nitrogen and oxygen than carbon dioxide is exhaled. Not just the 4% of carbon dioxide. When carbon dioxide is exhaled, that is only from what is absorbed by other processes, such as ingestion or inhalation and what is already in the body, and cannot be any more than that.

          Nothing is created, only a growing healthy body by ingested and inhaled metabolism processes. Just like all the other elements that are either absorbed or exhaled or urinated or excreted by any living body.

          All of that is a perfectly balanced natural process along with all the other creatures on the planet. Not the completely out of balance artificial anthropogenic excesses of industrial extraction and pollution that has no additional natural living processes to be able to deal with it. All life exists in a natural closed system. No sufficient natural system exists when the balances of natural systems are exceeded and overturned without changing the entire balances of nature into an vastly unbalanced system that is unable to sustain natural living creatures.

          Always better to read everything that I said, rather than attempt to cherry pick and separate out one single element out of context wasn’t it.

          Balance in all things. animals including humans, exhale more oxygen than carbon dioxide.

          Have a Nice Evening.

          • Yes, it seems it is.

            Carbon is ingested by humans, and animals in the form of solid ie. FOOD as well as gas. It is also released from decay within the body-try researching the turnover of body cells.

            So indeed far more carbon dioxide is exhaled than inhaled-4% is much greater than 0.04%. Those are the simple facts.

            Yes, E-G you were correct. The carbon dioxide exhaled by humans is far greater than the carbon dioxide inhaled. I do not believe you made any reference to ratios of oxygen exhaled versus carbon dioxide, or any reference to the amount of carbon within food ingested.

            I am sure the carbon cycle is still part and parcel of education. For those who wish to miss out on education I did hear the consequences today on a TV quiz program where the food of the Gods and Homer were confused and the answer given was ” doughnuts”!

            Children-if you wish to be outside of that humorous, but concerning circle, just study the carbon cycle.

  8. UK use of coal to produce energy compared to Germany where the resource is running out article.

    UK coal use was below 3% in September to produce energy compared to its usual about 1%.

    Germany’s use of coal to produce energy in the first quarter of 2021 was 26%.

    While there is obviously more to do in the transition no one can say that this is a step in the right direction by the UK compared to our European neighbours.

  9. Well ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, it looks like the metabolism lesson fell on deaf ears? No change there.

    No. Eli Goth is still wrong. Since the ingested food, be that animal or vegetable is no longer respirating and exhaling or chemically emitting carbon dioxide. Nor it can be said breathing out oxygen. Which is the greater? And also the ingested for is no longer consuming oxygen for its own growth and metabolism
    either. Life continues and the natural balance is restored.

    Small breaths gained and lost do not a climate change make. That is the priveledge of one sided equations of the industrial processes.

    A species living in harmony within nature, not only preserves balance, it can, if by choice, enhance and improve natural life systems and climate balance. That is natural balance. Not the exploitative one sided equation of profit motivated exploitation and extraction which only takes and gives nothing back to nature.

    Artificial anthropogenic industrial processes exist outside of nature. They not only consume oxygen and carbon they also extract and reintroduces hydrocarbons and other pollutions back into the environment and to the atmosphere.

    Millions of years of stabilising and burying ancient potential pollutants are again reintroduced into an already struggling natural system besieged by deforestation and monocultural agriculture. Anthropogenic artificial industry produces vastly more carbon dioxide than billions of human and trillions of animal respiration. Industry also produces vast amounts of carbon monoxide, methane and artificially petrochemical produced unnatural chemicals which natural life process and natural balances are unable to deal with.

    The oil and gas industry since the beginning of the first industrial revolution, the petroleum based extraction and production operations. The chemical and industrial industries. Have all been allowed to become a greed based money oriented, out of control, monopolised and jealously guarded system of exploitation and control. Nature is seen only as another exploitable resource to be pillaged, ransacked and the waste discarded and dumped anywhere, for nothing more than greed and profit.

    That is what has caused the accelerating anthropogenically climate change so evident now.

    That also has caused the sixth major extinction event in the Earth’s history and 1 in 5 deaths of humans and animals from fossil fuelsare a direct result of that insanity.

    Still no replies on that from someone about the points that David King proved to be true.

    The carbon cycle is only one small aspect of life on Earth. However, ignoring the entirety and complexity of the holistic integrated processes of nature which had previously been balanced and was capable of recovery when natural climate change did occur over millions of years. That natural life system and life balances are now so severely damaged and in great jeopardy they cannot deal with further excesses.

    In only a few thousand nature destroying years and 250 years of industrialisation or so, the human race has destablised that vital natural systems ecological and climate balance to such an extent that nature can no longer recover sufficiently from the last two and a half centuries of rapidly increasing anthropogenic abuse. The extent to which that destruction of natural life and climate balance is now reaching even the most reluctant corners. The massive green washing of industry is now in full flood. But little if anything is actually done. Lots and lots of fine words and speeches. Nothing is actually done. Quite the opposite. The trend now is to reverse even the little which was promised.

    So yet again the attempt at cherry picking one element out of context fails to take into account the entire complexity of natural life systems, animal metabolisms and the natural balanced life cycles, and failed to explain the entire inter-related processes of natural life systems.

    No. Eli Goth is still wrong.

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