UK onshore oil sites continue to emit methane, research reveals

The climate-damaging gas methane is still being released at English onshore oil sites, a year after researchers revealed the problem.

Infra red footage from IGas’s Horndean X site. Video: CATF, 2021

DrillOrDrop reported in October 2021 that “significant emissions of methane” had been recorded at key onshore sites.

The emissions were detected by the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), an international climate NGO. It used infrared imaging cameras to document the emissions on visits to sites across seven counties.

The organisation recently returned to sites in the Weald basin in southern England and recorded continuing emissions at oil production sites in Hampshire and West Sussex.

James Turito, of CATF, told BBC News today:

“This is absolutely avoidable. The technologies exist to capture the gas that is being vented and emitted from the various equipment that we see on this site.”

Methane often comes to the surface when oil is extracted.

At some onshore sites, the Environment Agency allows methane to be released into the atmosphere (known as cold venting). The gas may also leak from vents, valves or seals, or be fully, or partially, burned in a flare.

Methane from all sources accounts for at least a quarter of global warming since pre-industrial times.

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.

Last year (2021), the UK signed the Global Methane Pledge, an international initiative to cut methane emissions. The launch at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow targeted reductions in emissions from the oil and gas industry. Signatories committed to reducing total methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, compared with 2020 levels.

Also in 2021, the International Energy Agency said cuts to methane emissions from oil and gas sites were vital to limiting global warming to 1.5C.

Most methane emissions from the UK oil and gas industry are from offshore fields.

But official data from the North Sea Transition Authority (NTSA) shows that 1,352m3 of methane gas was vented onshore from a total of 18 onshore oil sites between September 2021-August 2022 (the most recent 12 months for which figures are available).

Data on the volume of vented gas from onshore fields has been published by the NSTA for the past six years.

Data source: North Sea Transition Authority

In that time, vented gas was recorded at 26 onshore oil fields. The largest volume was from the Kimmeridge* site in Dorset, at 3,532m3. It was followed by Horndean in Hampshire (1,295m3). According to the figures, the Stockbridge field, also in Hampshire, has vented 322m3 since 2016, while Singleton in West Sussex has vented 190m3.

The industry group, UK Onshore Oil and Gas (UKOOG), says on its website that venting and flaring of gas is “only used when absolutely necessary”. It says:

“The oil and gas industry takes great care to avoid flaring and venting natural gas wherever possible.

“Not only are these harmful to the environment, but natural gas is valuable both economically and as an energy resource. Therefore, 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 Charles McAllister, of UKOOG, told BBC News:

“Some facilities are quite old. Repurposing these facilities to capture what the Environment Agency would call de minimis volumes of methane – very small amounts – is not economically viable.”

Today the Green Alliance estimated that 750,000 homes could be heated this winter if the UK oil and gas industry (both onshore and offshore) stopped venting and flaring.

Also today, the Environment Agency published a comparison of the best methods to detect methane emissions and onshore oil and gas sites.

The study concluded:

“We found that there is little published data on the accuracy of different measurement methods. To address this, controlled releases should be used to understand the method detection limits and accuracy.

“The application of the selected methods should be standardised and implemented by qualified and experienced staff.”

*DrillOrDrop reported in September 2022 that the Kimmeridge site has installed a flare to burn methane, to replace venting . The operator, Perenco, has also produced plans to compress gas so that it could be collected by tanker and used at a local electricity generation site.

22 replies »

  1. The University of the Arts London, University of Bedfordshire, and Wrexham Glyndwr University join Birkbeck, University of London, which was the first to adopt a fossil-free careers service policy in September.

    This will make a huge difference. I wonder how many graduates from the subject universities ended up working in the fossil fuel industry in oil and gas? Probably close to zero..

    Banning them at Wrexham may slow down our switch to renewables though.

  2. Not certain anyone has done too much thinking around that policy, Paul.

    Tell young people they are precluded from something, and surprise, surprise, there will be many who decide they will not be dictated to by the establishment! Unless young people have suddenly become more subservient. Not my experience.

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