A Pragmatic Approach To Managing Carbon Emissions in the North Sea

Oil and gas companies have been engaged in efforts to address the risks and opportunities of global climate change for many years. The Paris Agreement of COP21 in 2015 has led to a renewed focus and energy for action.

At the corporate level, integrated oil and gas companies are exploring options to reduce the carbon intensity of their products across the whole lifecycle to better prepare their businesses for a low-carbon future. Managing greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions in upstream oil and gas production activities by improving efficiency and reducing flaring is one element of this.

This paper aims to highlight a pragmatic approach to managing carbon emissions from offshore installations operating on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) that helps maintain competitiveness and maximizes economic recovery in this mature basin. It does so by illustrating the key challenges and opportunities associated with managing carbon emissions in the UKCS.

The challenges are multiple and complex.

  • Energy Intensity—Increasing energy consumption is required to maintain production from depleting reservoirs and for new developments that often require pressure support or are from multiple small fields that deplete quickly.
  • Plant Vulnerabilities—As equipment and infrastructure age, the likelihood of failures increases, leading to more frequent and potentially more challenging unplanned shutdowns and reduced plant reliability.
  • Plant Optimization—As reservoirs deplete, topside plant design often is no longer optimized for production rates and well-fluid compositions.
  • Resource Constraints—Capital and offshore constraints, such as bed space, or competing priorities, such as safety-critical maintenance, result in significant practical constraints that limit offshore maintenance and modification workscopes.
  • Policy and Legislation—Policy and legislation can create incentives (e.g., through carbon pricing) that drive energy efficiency. However, in practice, instruments such as the EU Emissions Trading System (EUETS) have not achieved this in the oil and gas sector. This is because EUETS rules do not recognize the unique characteristics of the offshore industry and because the carbon price has remained low for the past 5 years.

Despite the challenges, opportunities exist to reduce and avoid emissions in the UKCS through

  • Operational Efficiency—Achieving stable, reliable plants by addressing the underlying causes of poor operational efficiency has great potential to reduce GHG emissions relative to production in the near term at no incremental cost.
  • New Technology—Economic deployment of appropriate technologies on new and existing installations has the potential to reduce GHG emissions.

The benefits of pursuing these pragmatic opportunities include

  • Maximized economic recovery of hydrocarbons
  • Reduced GHG emissions relative to production
  • Lower exposure to carbon price under the EUETS

Find the paper on the HSE Technical Discipline Page free for a limited time. 


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