Oil companies are looking at ways to reduce carbon emissions as North Sea oil exploration continues for many years. This is in response to criticisms from environmentalists. Will reducing emissions change public opinion about Britain’s oil and gas activities?
This month, the U.K. government announced $22.8 million for projects to reduce emissions in the North Sea oil and gas sector. The projects include the reuse of existing pipelines to export hydrogen. As part of the U.K.’s goal to have zero carbon emissions by 2050, the investment will be made through the Energy Transition Fund.
In addition, as of July, all companies operating in the North Sea had to agree to the U.K.’s North Sea transition deal requiring them to act on reducing carbon emissions across oil and gas projects while continuing to maintain the country’s energy security.
The strict regulations imposed by the Gas Authority, Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning and the Health and Safety Executive have allowed the North Sea oil and gas industry to be ahead of other U.K. industries in terms of carbon-cutting through innovative technologies like carbon capture and storage (CCS).
Several renewable energy projects have been developed by oil companies that have invested in the region. Equinor Hywind has invested in the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, off the coast of Scotland, providing electricity for around 20,000 homes. Acorn has created a CCS project at St Fergus in Peterhead. It is expected to go into operation in the middle of 2020s and will capture around 300,000.t/yr carbon emissions from the gas plant.
Many continue to criticize Britain for its enthusiasm about continuing operations in the North Sea, an industry that is not slowing down despite international pressure from International Energy Agency (IEA).
The U.K. government’s plans to explore the Cambo oilfield, which is estimated at 800 million barrels, near Shetland has been the subject of legal action in the United Kingdom. This was despite government promises that it would not issue new exploration licenses that are not compatible with national climate goals.
The head of the Greenpeace U.K. oil campaign, Mel Evans, stated: “The government is signing off on new oil and is willfully ignoring the carbon emissions that come from burning the oil that’s extracted.” Further, “If the UK government approves Cambo we could torpedo the world’s chances of meeting climate targets, and Boris Johnson will be a figure of failure on the world stage at the upcoming Cop26 climate talks in Glasgow.”
Criticism also comes from the leader of the opposition, Kier Starmer, who says that drilling in the Cambo oilfield should not go ahead, and the decision for further exploration is at odds with the upcoming COP26 climate conference, to be held in Glasgow this October.
The government claims that Cambo’s oilfield was first licensed in 2001 before the new rules for exploration. Project operations will begin in 2022, and last for approximately 25 years if it is approved.
Will this convince the IEA or the British public that oil and gas exploration in the area is legitimate if the U.K., Scottish, and private oil companies invest heavily in carbon emissions-cutting technologies? The COP26 climate conference is likely to provide the insight needed to understand both the local and international expectations regarding the future of oil & gas in the North Sea.
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