Centrica’s site Rough gas storage site cleared to start filling up within weeks

The safety inspectors have cleared Britain’s largest gas storage facility to reopen. This will allow it to begin filling up for winter within weeks.

After receiving approval from the Health and Safety Executive, Centrica, the owner and operator of British Gas is set to start pumping natural gas into the Rough Storage Site at the beginning of September.

This means that the only obstacles remaining to reopen Rough include an agreement between Centrica, the Government and state support. Final consents from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) are also not considered problematic.

According to a Whitehall source, Centrica and government officials are hoping to end their talks by Monday so that Rough can begin filling up in a matter of a fortnight.

Since 2017, the facility was not used for storage. However, Kwasi Kwarteng (the Business Secretary) requested that it be taken out of retirement in order to increase UK energy security.

Following warnings that Europe was facing one of the most difficult heating seasons in decades, Russia is throttling gas pipelines to Europe and a growing possibility of industrial rationing.

Rough is 18 miles from the coast of Yorkshire and under the North Sea. It could be a source of additional supplies for Britain in critical moments.

It can store enough gas to supply winter demand for approximately 10 days, but it is expected to return to around one-quarter of its capacity in winter.

Centrica claimed Rough had reached the end of its “design lives” five years prior and that it could no longer be safely operated. There were also doubts regarding the integrity of some of its wells.

It has been in operation since then as a production facility. The company draws down any gas that is left and sells it to the marketplace.

Centrica stated that it is now in a position to reopen Rough as storage, but this will be done in stages.

A spokesperson for Rough said that the safe operation of Rough was always our top priority.

“We know this asset well because we have been operating it for many decades. After 2017, the asset was removed from storage. This has led to significant investment in the asset.

“The main reason Rough could be returned is that we would increase its capacity in stages, ahead of each winter so that we can do any necessary work to increase capacity safely.”

The Health and Safety Executive has approved this approach.

The agency’s spokesperson said that offshore gas installations must be able to operate with an approved document, known as a safety case.

“We have been informed of safety changes for the Rough B Offshore installation, and we have evaluated them. They have been accepted.”

Although Centrica has been granted temporary waivers and licences by Ofgem and the NSTA, it still needs two technical consents from the latter.

A spokesperson for the NSTA stated that to secure these, it must submit a plan for gas storage development approval, and then get official consent to store gas.

Rough was responsible for approximately 70% of the UK’s storage capacities before it closed. The facility could hold around 3.4bn cubic meters of natural gas.

To maintain pressure, approximately 5bn cubic meters of “cushion” gas was also kept in the room.

Centrica’s site will not bring in much more than that, with the company aiming to Rough to produce around 800 million cubic meters of gas this winter and 1.7bn the next.

This would still represent a significant increase in UK gas storage levels, but it is only 1.6 billion cubic metres.

Centrica is expected to make hundreds of millions of pounds by releasing gas to market this winter when spot prices are expected to rise higher.

Talks about state support are however concerning the facility’s long-term future, as summer and winter prices could narrow again if there is an energy crisis.

The Government and the company are both supportive of the eventual repurposing of the facility to store hydrogen rather than natural gas.

Image: The Rough gas storage site is due to reopen after closing in 2017 CREDIT: Centrica

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