UK North Sea flaring cut by 19% last year, reaching record low

Source: press release, 4 March 2022

OGA Chief Executive, Dr Andy Samuel
OGA Chief Executive, Dr Andy Samuel (photo: OGA)

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

Production facilities cut their flaring by 6 billion cubic feet (bcf), to 26 bcf, 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 4 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 and methane dropped by 8%.

The OGA’s proactive approach supported and contributed to these reductions and reflects our sharpened focus on flaring and venting. Our organisation is using new guidance, its consenting regime, active stewardship, monitoring, benchmarking and reporting to drive both down and, where possible, eliminate them. Industry is expected to achieve zero routine flaring and venting by 2030 or sooner, and all new developments should be designed on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting.

The OGA is working closely with those operators which flare and vent the most to ensure quick progress is made. Operators’ requests for flaring and venting consents for new field development plans and existing production are being closely scrutinised, and a halt can be ordered if excessive levels are reached.

Examples of our robust stewardship process in action include insisting that a major operator reinstated a flare gas recovery system on a platform and helping another identify a fault with valves on an installation where flaring had become excessive.

Last year’s drop in flaring and venting also coincided with planned maintenance shutdowns on multiple installations. Much of this work was postponed from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and included the closure and upgrade of pipelines, such as the Forties Pipeline System.

As part of our commitment to hold industry to account on emissions reduction targets agreed in the North Sea Transition Deal, our first, annual Emissions Monitoring Report was published in October 2021. To supplement this report, the OGA produced two interactive benchmarking dashboards, one of which tracks flaring and venting activity.

The OGA revised its Strategy in February 2021 to include an obligation for industry to support the country’s net-zero target. A month later, Stewardship Expectation 11 – Net Zero was introduced, which expects operators to demonstrate a commitment to reducing greenhouse gases at every stage of the project lifecycle.

Dr Andy Samuel, OGA Chief Executive, says, “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.”

“A substantial drop in flaring 2 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,” Dr Samuel adds.