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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

First ever global registry of fossil fuels launched, while North Sea emissions continue to fall


Offshore oil platform at sunset Photo: Adobe Stock
The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels tracks the impact of fossil fuel production and combustion on the global carbon budget

Photo: Adobe Stock

Transparency on fossil fuel supply has taken a major step forward as what is claimed to be the first public database of emissions from production and combusting reserves worldwide is published. Meanwhile, the North Sea oil and gas industry is reportedly on track to meet early emissions reduction targets, according to a separate report.

Launched by Carbon Tracker and Global Energy Monitor, the Global Registry of Fossil Fuels suggests that producing and combusting the world’s fossil fuel reserves would yield over 3.5tn tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, over seven times the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C and more than all emissions produced since the industrial revolution.


Climate change policy efforts to date have focused on reducing demand and consumption of oil, gas and coal, but ignored the supply of those fuels. The Paris Agreement, for example, does not even mention fossil fuel production, despite the fact that such fuels account for over 75% of global GHG emissions.


The UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Production Gap reports have predicted a large fossil fuel overhang in relation to the remaining carbon budget, while the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that no new fields should be developed and that some existing fields retired early if we are to limit warming to 1.5°C.


However, policymakers and civil society lack the asset level data needed to inform decisions on how to manage a phase out, while markets lack the information to predict which assets are likely to become stranded.


The Global Registry of Fossil Fuels was created to fill this data gap. It is reported to be the first public database of fossil fuel production and reserves worldwide that tracks their impact on the carbon budget. The Registry is policy neutral and fully transparent in its assumptions and calculations, and it is hoped that in due course it will be situated formally within the international climate policymaking process, say its developers.


The Registry currently contains data for over 50,000 fields in 89 countries, covering 75% of global fossil fuel production. Among other things it shows that the US and Russia each hold enough reserves to blow the entire global carbon budget, even if all other countries ceased production immediately. Of the 50,000 fields covered by the database, the most potent source of emissions is reported to be the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia, which is claimed to produce some 525mn t/y of carbon emissions.


Emissions data is just one type of information that governments will need to answer the question of ‘how’ to reduce the supply of fossil fuels. Over time, the Registry will be extended to include economic attributes, including taxes and royalties associated with specific assets, that could factor into decision-making on how to manage a phase out of supply.


North Sea emissions down more than 20% since 2018
Meanwhile, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) reports that the North Sea oil and gas industry is on track to meet early emissions reduction targets after posting cuts of more than a fifth between 2018–2021 following investment in more energy-efficient equipment and technologies which minimise flaring.


The latest Emissions Monitoring Report from the NSTA shows that GHG emissions were cut by an estimated 14.6% to 14.3mn tCO2e last year, adding up to an overall reduction of 21.5% since 2018.


Robust NSTA regulation, coupled with a reduction in offshore activity amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the permanent shutdown of several platforms with high emissions contributed to the decreases recorded in recent years.


Combustion for power generation is the main source of emissions, with an average of 71%, followed by flaring, at 22%, while venting and other non-combustion processes have similar levels with 4% and 3% respectively, says the report.


Venting is the discharging of gases into the atmosphere. Flaring is burning the gases before they are discharged and mainly results in CO2 emissions. Both are required for safety and operational reasons, but more can be done to reduce the amount, says the NSTA.


The report is accompanied by a dashboard which allows the user to conduct a more detailed analysis of emissions performance by UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) region, year and type of facility, among other variables.


Encouragingly, NSTA projections indicate the sector is on track to meet interim emissions reduction targets – of 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027 – which were agreed in the North Sea Transition Deal (NSTD) between the sector and UK government in 2021.


However, the NSTA warns that '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’, it says, stating that ‘the NSTD will not be delivered without it’. It also adds that at least two electrification projects should be commissioned by 2027.


The NSTA also notes that meeting these NSTD targets is the ‘absolute minimum’ it expects from industry, ‘which should strive to surpass them’.