UPDATED 1 Sept: The EI library in London is temporarily closed to the public, as a precautionary measure in light of the ongoing COVID-19 situation. The Knowledge Service will still be answering email queries via email , or via live chats during working hours (09:15-17:00 GMT). Our e-library is always open for members here: eLibrary , for full-text access to over 200 e-books and millions of articles. Thank you for your patience.
New Energy World magazine logo
New Energy World magazine logo
ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)

Further action needed to cut North Sea oil and gas emissions says NSTA


Sleipner oil and gas facilities at sea Photo: Øyvind Gravås and Bo B Randulff/Equinor
Electrification of oil and gas installations has a key role to play in reducing emissions from the North Sea, both in UK and Norwegian sectors

Photo: Øyvind Gravås and Bo B Randulff/Equinor

A new emissions reduction plan published by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) highlights the need for further action across the board to decarbonise oil and gas production to ensure the future of the industry and hit UK net zero targets.

Meanwhile, Equinor continues to work towards decarbonising Norwegian oil and gas production operations, reporting that the Sleipner field centre, the Gudrun platform and other associated fields, are now partly operating on power from shore, reducing annual emissions from the Norwegian Continental Shelf by 160,000 t/y of CO2.


Emissions reduction is one of the NSTA’s three priorities, alongside energy production and the transition to net zero. The plan, produced after extensive public consultation and taking onboard feedback, covers four contributing factors to decarbonising the industry, and emphasises that for production to continue in the North Sea, it must also continue to become cleaner.


Oil and gas still meet around three quarters of UK energy needs and, even as demand declines, the UK is likely to remain a net importer to 2050, notes the NSTA.


It adds that the UK oil and gas sector has done an impressive job in cutting production emissions in recent years, by nearly a quarter since 2018, with flaring alone almost halved from 2018 to 2022, according to the NSTA. However, UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) emissions still account for around 3% of total UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, as power generation was responsible for 79% of production emissions in 2022, electrification or clean power generation can play a significant role in reducing that volume.


Electrification alone could, under the ‘best-case’ scenario, deliver emissions savings of 1–2mn tonnes in 2030, equal to taking one million cars off the road for a year, and a total of up to 22mn tonnes by 2050.


The Authority makes it clear that, where the NSTA considers electrification reasonable but where these changes have not been carried out, there should be no expectation that the NSTA will approve field development plans or similar decisions that give access to future hydrocarbon resources on that asset.


Electrification is not the only option. Other forms of low-carbon power will also be considered if operators can provide evidence of ‘near equivalent’ emissions reduction. In cases where it is not reasonable to electrify an existing asset, other low-carbon power emissions reduction strategies must be undertaken.


The plan also highlights three other emissions reduction pathways: investment and efficiency, focus on inventory with increased scrutiny of assets with high emissions intensity, and action on flaring and venting.


In relation to inventory, there will be increased scrutiny of assets with high emissions intensity and their cessation of production (CoP) dates. The NSTA suggests that closing some low-producing, high-polluting installations earlier could allow higher producing and cleaner new assets to come online, while still reducing overall UKCS emissions.


The plan emphasises that operators should budget to reduce flaring and venting, with the latter focused on methane. It also sets out a clear requirement that operators monitor and reduce fugitive emissions.


The requirements outlined in the plan build on existing commitments made by industry, including in the North Sea Transition Deal, with operators having agreed to deliver 50% reduction by 2030 and invest £2–3bn on electrification. In addition, the UK oil and gas industry has committed to 90% reduction by 2040, and to reach net zero by 2050.  


Commenting on the plan, Stuart Payne, NSTA Chief Executive, says: ‘Energy production, reducing emissions and accelerating the energy transition are at the heart of everything we do. The plan strikes the right balance in supporting industry in its work producing the oil and gas which we need and will continue to need in the coming decades, while at the same time playing its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.’


Norwegian electrification developments

Meanwhile, in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, the Sleipner field centre, along with the Gudrun platform and other associated fields, is now partly operating on power from shore. This is expected to reduce annual emissions from the Norwegian Continental Shelf by 160,000 tonnes of CO2.


All installations on the Utsira High* are now receiving power from shore, saving emissions of 1.2mn t/y of CO2, according to operator Equinor. The electrification of installations on the Utsira High is in line with the plan for development and operation (PDO) for Johan Sverdrup Phase 2.


‘Electrification is the most effective tool in our toolbox in our quest to achieve the national target of halving greenhouse gas emissions from Norwegian oil and gas production by 2030,’ says Geir Tungesvik, Executive Vice President for Projects, Drilling & Procurement, Equinor.


*The Utsira High power grid includes the following installations: Johan Sverdrup, Gina Krog, Sleipner, Gudrun (all operated by Equinor); and Edvard Grieg and Ivar Aasen (both operated by Aker BP).