Regulation

Dorset oil site continues to vent hundreds of tonnes of methane

Hundreds of tonnes of climate-warming methane is being released into the atmosphere by the UK’s longest continuously producing onshore oil well, despite curbs ordered by the environmental regulator.

Methane venting at Kimmeridge oil site, Dorset, recorded by Clean Air Task Force, October 2021 using an FLIR GF320 camera, the industry standard for identifying emissions at oil and gas sites

The Kimmeridge site in Dorset, operated by Perenco, has legally emitted methane directly into the atmosphere since oil production began in the 1980s.

In early 2019, the Environment Agency (EA) instructed the operator to produce plans to use the waste gas, which is extracted along with the oil, rather than vent it.

The EA set a deadline of November 2019 for the plans. But venting was allowed to continue at Kimmeridge and the EA has now revealed the practice is unlikely to stop until the end of summer 2022.

Methane is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, particularly in the short-term. It accounts for about a third of global warming since pre-industrial times and levels in the atmosphere are rising faster than ever.

Methane’s ability to trap heat over 20 years is at least 86 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2). Over 100 years, methane’s global warming potential falls to 28-36 greater than CO2.

At the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow last year, 105 countries signed the Global Methane Pledge, agreeing to cut methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, compared with 2020 levels. They agreed that the greatest potential for methane cuts was in the oil and gas sectors.

Also last year, the International Energy Agency said cuts to methane emissions and oil and gas sites were vital to limiting global warming to 1.5C.

Official data

Official data from the Oil & Gas Authority has recorded venting from onshore wells in the UK since October 2016. In that time alone, the data shows the Kimmeridge site released 3,014 tonnes of gas.

In the 12 months to September 2021 (the most recent figure available), the well vented 599 tonnes of gas. During the same period, the well produce 2,864 tonnes of oil.

Perenco has reported that about half the Kimmeridge gas is methane and half non-methane volatile organic compounds.

This indicates that about 300 tonnes of methane were released each year, the equivalent of more than 25,000 tonnes of CO2 (20 year global warming potential). The average carbon footprint for a person in the UK is 10 tonnes of CO2e per year.

If Kimmeridge continues to produce oil and gas at a similar rate, another 150 tonnes of methane will be emitted in the next six months, before venting stops.

Investigations

In 2018, DrillOrDrop worked with local researcher Stuart Lane to investigate methane emissions at the Kimmeridge site. At the time, the EA told us “all methane is released through the permitted release point”.

But it said the site’s environmental permit was being reviewed and Perenco would be required to produce a plan on how it would use or dispose of unwanted gas.

According to official data, production at Kimmeridge stopped briefly that year and for two months there was no venting.

More than three years later, we reported on research by the Clean Air Task Force which found “significant methane emissions” at Kimmeridge. The gas was still being released through vents in two oil storage tanks about 5m above the ground.

Changes planned at Kimmeridge

In November 2021, the EA revealed that the aim was to stop the emissions, known in the industry as cold venting, by the end of summer 2022.

The information came in response to a Freedom of Information request by Stuart Lane.

The EA said Perenco had bought a road tanker to transport liquified gas off the site. But it said:

“There have been delays in procuring and fabricating part of the specialised equipment, which is being sourced from an Italian manufacturer. Once the equipment has arrived in the UK, we will ensure that it is installed and commissioned in a timely manner, to reduce emissions from the Kimmeridge well site.”

“Well should have been suspended”

Stuart Lane said:

“One might expect for this well to remain inactive until the issues, identified by the EA, had been resolved and for a permit to be withheld pending resolution.

“This, however, is not what followed. Perenco was allowed to restart production and three years on, all methane and non-menthane volatile organic compounds are still being vented to the atmosphere.

“Whilst it is good that the EA has seen reason to tighten controls on this well, it is worrying that the regulatory framework has not required operators to stop pumping until standards are met. Clearly, it has been deemed more reasonable to release potent greenhouse gases unabated for an additional three years whilst the operator brings standards in line with EA requirements.

“For Perenco, releasing methane to the atmosphere is almost certainly much cheaper than capturing it in this location. The longer Perenco can get away with doing so, the more profitable. If the EA don’t stop them or require speedy resolution, why should they care?”

Vicki Elcoate, of the Weald Action Group, which has been helping uncover methane emissions at sites across the South of England said:

“Reducing methane is critical to slowing climate change.  At COP26 the UK committed to a significant cut in highly polluting methane emissions by 2030.

“Any preventable emissions which are subject to regulation should be at the top of the list to achieve this goal and the Kimmeridge is a good example of that – there should be no further delay in stopping this pollution”.

Deadlines and enforcement

DrillOrDrop put a series of questions to the EA on the regulation of the Kimmeridge site.

An EA spokesperson told us:

“The Kimmeridge site, amongst other onshore oil and gas facilities, has been permitted to cold-vent gas since production started in the 1980s.

“A revised permit included an improvement condition which the operator is working on implementing – we will not hesitate to take enforcement action if agreed improvements are not made.”

The EA confirmed Perenco had submitted its gas management plan for Kimmeridge by the deadline of November 2019. The proposals were approved in September 2020.

But supply chain problems meant the original commissioning date for new equipment, in August 2021, was not met.

The spokesperson said:

“We have to apply our regulatory powers in a fair and consistent way in accordance with the Regulator’s code.

“We have taken steps to ensure that the equipment is installed by the operator as quickly and safely as possible, and will not hesitate to take enforcement action if the current commissioning date is not going to be met.

“Our regulatory focus on reducing methane emissions from the onshore oil and gas sector support the government’s commitment to the Global Methane Pledge, in line with our statutory powers.”

13 replies »

  1. Isn’t it great that methane emissions can be subject to UK control whereas methane emissions from imported oil can not?! The last paragraph of the above report places that on record.

    Good advertisement for why UK oil production is so much better than more imports.

    Oh, and the methane emissions continue to bubble away to the surface within Kimmeridge Bay, routinely observed by those diving in the area.

  2. Oh dear. That was a lot of constructive comment in reply.

    The article was about dealing with methane emissions from this site. Thank you Ruth for giving the details. Looks as if once supply chain issues sorted for the kit it will be done and monitored by the EA. Obviously your question mark, 1720, needs to be ignored.

    Great that methane emissions are about to be controlled at this site, Jono. Meanwhile, those out in the bay are beyond control, and those from cattle grazing around the site are controllable, but not possible to eliminate, without eliminating the cattle.
    Great that methane is released from huge swathes of swamps across the globe. And also great that rice production causes methane emissions, as the rice production keeps millions of people alive. Or, would you prefer to eliminate those methane emissions and ignore the collateral damage?

    I did like the suggestion the site should be closed until the issue was resolved. Strange such sentiment is absent from cobalt supply. (lol) And, shush, must not mention the green levies. Perhaps renewables should not have been rolled out until they did not require green levies?

  3. I thought there was a bit of a problem, Martin. The article was not “ about dealing with methane emissions from this site”. Let me help you. The title of an article as well as a sub-title often gives a clue, as indeed here. .The article was about the apparent inability of the EA so far to control emissions.It was surprising to discover that you thought the report was eulogising the sterling efficiency of the EA in upholding our world-beating regulatory provisions. I was as constructive as I could be in prompting you to re-read the article. If you had not ignored my question mark, you might have spotted the question it marked.
    Not really “great”, is it, that “Hundreds of tonnes of climate-warming methane is being released into the atmosphere.”
    What is “great” is the silly diversionary waffle you indulge in in the hope of establishing fiction as fact. You are getting very skilled in this – great indeed. You’ve been taking lessons from your favourite politician, I see.

  4. Oh, I see, 1720. One should read the headline without reading the detail in the article!

    Now I can see why you become so confused, and learn little. Rather insulting to the journalist who takes time to provide the detail.

    Headline:

    “Best goal of the season!”

    You might need to read the article to find out was it George Best’s goal of the season, or whether it was scored by someone else.

    All that to try and deflect that the EA has been working with Perenco to improve the situation, and produce a site with low methane emissions. Great. And so much better than might be allowed over the horizon. Plus point for local production, plus point for the global environment. Almost, take back control!
    Equipment from Italy held up during the pandemic? Sounds reasonable to me. Summer 2022? Covid allowing, again sounds reasonable to me. Then, the EA could check all was okay, and it would be possible to compare to over the horizon sites and the benefits of local production could be reinforced. Really great.

    No, sorry, you are not very skilled at either reading or understanding. Your English is pretty poor also. Please find the definition of fiction. There is no fiction within my posts. That must have been a flaw within your understanding of English, as you would surely not be wishing to fabricate just to prevent a need to deal with reality?

  5. No, Martin. Read both, of course. (Am I really saying this?)
    But when/if you suspect you may have misunderstood the text, (a big ‘if’, I’ll grant you!), then check the writer’s intention in the headline/title.
    But you know this: I detect a lack of good faith.
    You don’t dispose of an accusation of diversionary tactics by an unsubstantiated charge of deflection. The gist of the original I have already stated, guided by the writer’s statement of intent in the title/subtitle. The EA’s efforts to rectify its original failure to monitor adequately are not thereby denied, they also substantiate my interpretation of the article. Why attempt to rectify a failure if the failure specified in the title does not exist? Why are the explanations for this failure which you so eloquently specify (and partially comprehend) relevant if there is no failure as hinted at in the titles?
    In the circumstances, I take your last paragraph’s criticisms as a vindication of my own humble abilities to comprehend and as a confirmation of your undoubted ability to spin fact into fiction. Do stop taking Johnson as an exemplar of how to behave.
    This article is demonstrative of the EA’s failure to enforce the much-vaunted world-shattering (!) regulations governing the exploitation of oil and gas, and of course other things. Regulations are only as good as their enforcement.The EA is trying to catch up.

  6. Oh dear 1720!

    Now, I should take the writer’s intention from the headline?

    Really? Since when is that the way to become informed? What a lazy attitude and one guaranteed to achieve ignorance. Not my approach, but your choice.

    And, you really need to look at the regulations. But, then if you ignored the first sentence of the text that may be understandable, but much better not to ignore the text and then you would not wander off into fiction.

    Some writer’s intention to keep you amused:

    “Great tits like coconuts”

    What are the writer’s intentions?

    Read the text.

    “Blackbirds like worms, and much to my friend Jack’s confusion, pigeons are herbivores”.

    Language can be so confusing. It is within the power of the individual to seek comprehension, 1720. Maybe a tad inconvenient to the activist, but most do exactly that.

    Now, that may put you off language, so how about some arithmetic? Just take a few seconds to find the amount of methane produced during rice production. Then, calculate the growth in population and income in areas where rice is a major part of the diet, and you may see how much extra methane is likely from that source. So then you will see it is great that in the UK there are now efforts to eliminate methane emissions that can be eliminated, but the amounts are tiny in respect of climate change. No, I do not want the world’s wetlands to be eliminated either, although they are huge contributors to global methane emissions.

    You could always look at turquoise hydrogen as well, via the plastic keyboard. Not certain how good that may be for cold venting but it could be an option. Great that the fossil fuel companies are investing to find out.

    Still nothing from you 1720 regarding where there is fiction in my texts. Surely, you are not attempting more fabrication? Or, do you confuse inconvenient truth with fiction? Or, maybe, you are being lazy and not reading the text fully and thus becoming confused?

    Exemplars of behaviour? Hmm. A lot to chose from. How many rolls of wallpaper could I get from a Chinese agent for my office? Maybe I should follow that path?

  7. Oh dear/OMG/Mmm! Well that’s the preliminaries out of the way , a cue for Zzzzz! I think I can safely ignore the diversionary waffle and schoolboy attempts at humour.
    Fiction! You ask. Your whole DorD persona is based upon a fiction, Martin, one of course that scarcely matters if the global heating crisis is not anthropogenic.Your fiction, Martin, is denial of the fact that domestic FF exploitation will contribute to increasing the GHGs directly affecting the climate, both by direct emissions and by encouraging others so to contribute.Your fiction is to deny the role which arithmetic plays in this process. But, as I said, if these emissions do not contribute to climate change, if, that is, global warming is not anthropogenic, then deny away, human agency and arithmetic are irrelevant, and your industry friends have a licence for more of the same, the status quo you espouse. I hope that answers your question.
    Perhaps expose yourself to more intelligent headlines when you’ve worked out what they’re for.
    I won’t respond to your next Alice in Wonderland response, Martin, as I guess other contributors to and readers of DorD will have had enough of both of us.

  8. As I thought, 1720.

    Your posting history is full of errors of fact, which others will also have noticed, and then you suggest others post fiction but can not produce any real evidence to support that. What you attempt in your latest post above is not factually correct. It is your opinion and not based upon any current or previous experience in the UK. And, where have I ever espoused the status quo? Just more fiction. If you have read my comment above regarding turquoise hydrogen, you can see that is incorrect. So can others who await any positive suggestions from yourself as to how to practically shift from the status quo.

    Tell you what. Start at the beginning. Find out something about the subject, then contribute accurately and finally you may be in a position to criticise others. It looks as if you are starting at the wrong end of the natural process.

    A very lazy activist.

Add a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s