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UK North Sea flaring halved in just four years


Offshore platform with gas flare at sunset Photo: Adobe Stock
North Sea gas flaring fell again in 2022, by 13% to 22bn cf of gas, contributing to a total decrease of 50% since 2018, when volumes totalled 44bn cf, reports the North Sea Transition Authority

Photo: Adobe Stock

North Sea flaring has been cut in half following four consecutive years of reductions driven by tough measures to make UK oil and gas production cleaner, according to new analysis from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).

North Sea offshore gas flaring fell by 13% in 2022 to 22bn cf of gas, contributing to a total decrease of 50% since 2018, when volumes totalled 44bn cf. Last year’s reduction alone was equivalent to the gas demand of 80,000 UK homes, says the NSTA, a boost for the UK’s energy security and net zero by 2050 ambitions.


About a fifth of emissions from North Sea oil and gas production activities come from flaring, mainly resulting in CO2 emissions. Some flaring is unavoidable for safety and operational reasons, but the NSTA has been consistently clear that more can be done to prevent the waste of gas needed to heat and power homes and businesses.


Indeed, gas flaring was identified by industry leaders attending the Energy Institute’s recent International Energy Week as one of the biggest opportunities for reducing supply chain emissions.


The NSTA started benchmarking flaring performance in 2020 and the following year issued tougher guidance, stating that all new developments should have no routine flaring and venting, with zero routine flaring across all North Sea platforms, whether new or existing, by 2030 at the latest.


In addition to tracking, monitoring and reporting performance, the NSTA closely scrutinises operators’ applications for flaring consents, pushes back against requests to increase flaring and has ordered operators to restrict production temporarily to stay within agreed limits. It has also used sanctions powers for consents breaches, with £215,000 worth of fines issued in late 2022.


The UK oil and gas industry has committed to cleaner operations, having pledged to halve overall production emissions by 2030 in the North Sea Transition Deal.


Operators have made substantial investments in equipment designed to minimise flaring, namely flare gas recovery units, each estimated to save up to 22 t/d of flared gas, reports the NSTA.


Production operations coming to an end on older platforms with higher emissions has also contributed to the drop in flaring in recent years, although last year’s reduction in flaring was still against a backdrop of a 17% rise in gas production.


Meanwhile, venting, when gas is released without being burned, went up by 5% to 2.9bn cf in 2022, having been at particularly low levels in mid-2021 due to prolonged maintenance shutdowns across multiple platforms, timed to coincide with work to upgrade major pipelines, according to the NSTA. Venting represents about 0.15% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions and less than 5% of North Sea production emissions.