North Sea oil and gas firms are pumping out a coal plant’s worth of emissions each year through flaring and venting, an Unearthed investigation has revealed .
Figures obtained through Environmental Information Regulations requests show that almost 20m tonnes of CO2 equivalent were released in the five years to 2019. For the first time, the worst companies for flaring and venting can be named, with Repsol Sinopec, Total, Shell, BP and EnQuest in the top five.
Government must stop licensing new oil and gas
Campaigners have blasted the government’s failure to get emissions under control and its inadequate plans to move away from oil and gas to meet its climate targets and obligations.
Greenpeace is calling for an end to new oil and gas licensing, shifting instead to a prosperous renewables sector which supports our economy and North Sea workers and communities. The campaign group is pushing for the government to show climate leadership in the year that the UK hosts global climate talks, COP26, in Glasgow.
Mel Evans, senior oil campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “The government’s failure to stop companies flaring and venting a coal plant’s worth of carbon is disgraceful.
“Norway tackled this problem in the 1970s, but our government is clearly asleep at the wheel.
“To stand any chance of meeting our climate targets we need strong government action to regulate this industry and secure a safe and fair phaseout of oil and gas that supports workers and communities.
“The government must stop licensing new oil, and start rolling out offshore wind at scale, while supporting offshore workers to transition to jobs in decommissioning and renewables.”
Flaring and venting is the practice of deliberately burning off gas produced together with oil from reservoirs. This can be done for safety reasons, but more often occurs for commercial reasons.
Norway’s 1972 ban on non-emergency flaring
Norway banned non-emergency flaring 1972, but in the UK restrictions on flaring and venting set by the Oil and Gas Authority are weak. Its new strategy requires companies to reduce only as much as is “reasonable”. The rate of flaring on the UK Continental Shelf is consequently 11 times higher than in Norway and twice the North Sea average.
The investigation also found that, since 2015 – when BP, Total and Repsol promised to curb these emissions as part of their commitment to the Paris Agreement – venting and flaring emissions from their North Sea operations actually increased.
Between 2015-19, Total’s North Sea operations released 637,598 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – largely from its Elgin field, which it says is comprised of 3-4% carbon dioxide. Elgin also vented more methane in 2019 than any other platform.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Contact the Greenpeace press office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 Nearly 20m tonnes of CO2e has been released by oil and gas companies’ flaring and venting in the North Sea from 2015-19, comparable to the average annual emissions of a coal-fired power station.
Data was obtained through an EIR request from the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) – which is part of Beis. The data provided was from the government’s Environmental Emissions Monitoring System (EEMS), supplemented by data from the EUETS database (which is regarded by NAEI as more accurate).