Carbon emissions from UK oil and gas production fell by more than a fifth from 2018-21, the industry regulator said in a report published today. But the sector is not on course to meet its emissions reduction target in 2030 and carbon pollution per gallon of oil actually went up last year.
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said greenhouse gas emissions had been cut by an estimated 14.6% in 2021 to 14.3m tonnes of CO2e.
This was explained by regulation, reduction in offshore activity during the Covid-19 pandemic and permanent shutdown of platforms with high emissions, NSTA said. Many platforms were also closed for maintenance, leading to a fall in production and emissions, it added.
The emissions monitoring report is mainly about offshore extraction but it includes Wytch Farm, in Dorset, which produces more than 80% of UK onshore oil.
The data is solely for upstream emissions from oil and gas extraction. It does include the greater carbon pollution from burning oil and gas (downstream emissions).
According to the report, UK oil and gas production was likely to meet short-term emissions targets of 10% cuts by 2025 and 25% by 2027.
But it is not on course to meet the target of a 50% cut by 2030.
The NSTA said “further effort” was needed:
“Bold measures will be needed to hit the 2030 goal of halving emissions. Upgrading platforms to run on clean electricity, instead of gas or diesel, is essential.”
Carbon pollution per barrel of oil equivalent – known as the average carbon intensity – increased slightly from 20.7kgCO2e/boe in 2020 to 21.2 kgCO2e/boe in 2021, the report said.
NSTA said this was because production declined at a faster rate than carbon emissions during 2021. The net effect was higher carbon intensity.
The report also said the UK’s carbon intensity was higher than the level in most other oil producing nations. It said the UK was above the median position of 19.2 kgCO2/boe.
“This is heavily influenced by factors like age of basin, geology and so forth, but shows clearly there is still room for improvement in the UKCS.”
The report predicted that upstream emissions would rise in 2022 and 2023, before falling again from 2024 onwards. The downward trend would continue until 2043 when emissions cuts would plateau, it said.
A fifth of the carbon emissions in the UK continental shelf were from flaring (burning unwanted gas) and venting (releasing gas unburned into the atmosphere).
The government’s climate advisor, the Climate Change Committee recommended in 2021 that flaring and venting should be permitted only for safety reasons from 2025.
The NSTA said it would “continue driving further reductions”.
Licenses issued in 2021 required companies to implement emissions reduction plans for new and existing projects. There was also “tough new guidance to clamp down on flaring”, NSTA said.
But Friends of the Earth Scotland accused the NSTA of “fiddling while the planet burns” and called for a regulator responsible for “phasing out oil and gas production in a managed way over the next decade”.
Ryan Morrison, the organisation’s just transition campaigner, 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.
“The irony should not be lost on anyone that as the fossil fuel industry thinks about attaching wind turbines to oil platforms, they are also pushing to drill every last drop of oil and gas. Worse still, this report shows that the pollution from each barrel is higher than the majority of other countries and has actually increased in the last year.“
“Both climate science and energy experts are crystal clear that there can be no new oil or gas developments if we want to stay within the agreed limits of global temperature rises, no matter how much the industry tinkers around the edges of North Sea emissions.”