UK oil and gas production set to miss emissions target in 2030

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.”

9 replies »

  1. Carbon emissions fell by more than a fifth, (2018-2021.)

    There’s the reality. Targets for 2025 and 2027 are on course to be met. There’s the reality.

    Perhaps the cold light of day has a calming influence? Maybe a bit more HS2 and a little less flying will help get the future targets on track. Except some wish their protest lifestyle to continue unhindered so will not wish that to happen. It will, as did the Newbury bypass, and years later it will be thought ridiculous that any attention was given to those who just wanted to increase emissions yet pontificated about carbon pollution upon plastic under artificial light.

  2. Hmm, KatT.

    And they have also drilled a lot more wells and planning to continue that process! Where would UK be if that hadn’t happened?

  3. We just imported a cargo of gas from Australia, in other words has frozen to minus 170c in Australia then shipped half-way across the world then unloaded and unfrozen in the U.K.. Given that we will have a shortage of gas this winter, what is the comparison in carbon emissions between the two sources of supply.

    • shalewatcher: if only we could tap in to our own reserves of potentially 50 plus years of proven UK onshore gas?
      That would cut emissions down some what, this idea that by making the UK carbon net zero but not understanding at all the challenge in other countries carbon emissions! If we were to take the Australian gas import as an example, does that relate to our carbon or Australian carbon emissions regards both countries emissions ?

  4. If we could tap into our own reserves, apparently unlikely given the nature of the gas market, and given that the size and accessibility of reserves are in fact unknown, then we may be spared transport emissions. The question is are the emissions possibly saved smaller than the increased planetary emissions generated by a domestic FF industry? Are they less significant and damaging than the loss of climate leadership accruing to the U.K., than, furthermore, the example thus provided for other equally principle-free rogue states? How do they stand in relation to the well-merited charge of hypocrisy which would be levelled against the host nation of Cop26? If only indeed.

  5. OMG.

    Someone posting at 3am under artificial light using plastic and worried about hypocrisy!

    Bit like those Stop the Oil lot who left a vast heap of plastic rubbish after they were removed recently.

    Examples and leadership? Well, it made me laugh. And on the global stage, that is what other countries do when they have it suggested they will be led by other countries. What a quaint old fashioned colonial relic.

    Why would cargoes of LNG from Australia be required for delivery to UK if gas was available in UK? Wait for the contrived nonsense that it would as gas cannot be turned off in other parts of the world if the export market stops buying, even though Russia has just shown that it can, even before the buying has stopped!

    • It wouldn’t matter if there were proven reserves or whatever Martin, the anti’s would never accept scientific or technical evidence of proven reserves, nor would they understand it! You give someone a search engine, and a few websites and they seem to know more than someone who’s been in the industry for over 30 years… go figure!

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