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North Sea flaring fell to lowest level on record last year

© Shutterstock / Oil and Gas PhotoNorth Sea flaring
An offshore oil and gas platform flaring.

Flaring in the UK North Sea fell by 19% in 2021, building on a 22% decrease the previous year, new analysis shows.

According to research from industry regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), production facilities cut their flaring by 6 billion cubic feet (bcf), to 26 bcf.

That’s a reduction equivalent to the annual gas demand of 130,000 UK homes.

It means that offshore flaring volumes dipped to their lowest annual level on OGA records, while an all-time monthly low was set in June 2021.

Offshore flaring intensity – the amount of gas flared per unit of oil produced – decreased from 94 standard cubic feet per barrel (scf/bbl) in 2020 to 90 scf/bbl in 2021, an 11-year low.

This measure has now fallen four years in a row, from 125 scf/bbl in 2017.

Overall venting went down 24% while, within that, venting of inert gases – mainly carbon dioxide – was 29% lower – methane dropped by 8% too.

It follows a concerted effort by the OGA to clamp down on flaring and venting in the North Sea as the industry tries to reduce its environmental footprint.

In its drive to reduce offshore gas releases, the regulator is using new guidance, its consenting regime, active stewardship, monitoring, benchmarking and reporting.

Industry is expected to achieve zero routine flaring and venting by 2030 or sooner.

The OGA has the ability to halt new field development plans and existing production if flaring reaches an excessive level.

Discussions are also going on with the worst perpetrators to ensure quick progress in reducing offshore releases.

Last year’s drop in flaring and venting coincided with numerous planned maintenance shutdowns in the North Sea.

Much of the work had been postponed as a result of Covid-19, such as the closure and upgrade of the Forties Pipeline System.

Andy Samuel, OGA chief executive, said: “As we transition, the UK needs a stable supply of domestic oil and gas to minimise reliance on imports and bolster energy security.

“To ensure that production is as clean as possible, the OGA is holding the sector to account, including on flaring and venting, through close monitoring and benchmarking and proactive stewardship.”

OGA chief executive © Supplied by Jim Irvine/DCT Media
Andy Samuel

In its quest to axe North Sea emissions, the OGA has previously demanded that a major operator reinstate a flare gas recovery system on a platform.

Another company was aided to identify a fault with valves on an installation where flaring had become excessive.

Cutting emissions arising from the production of oil and gas was a key facet of the North Sea Transition Deal, a pact signed by industry and government last year.

It is supported by the OGA’s revised strategy, implemented in February 2021, which included an obligation for the sector to support the UK’s target to hit net zero by 2050.

Mr Samuel added: “A substantial drop in flaring two years running – reaching its lowest level since we started tracking – is encouraging and reflects both OGA and industry efforts. But there can be no let-up if the sector is to reach and surpass emissions reduction targets.”

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