Despite the commitments made at the COP26 climate summit in November 2021, methane and other gases continue to be released from onshore oil wells. This blog by Emily Mott of the Weald Action Group describes a recent site survey and calls for corporate action to follow government words.
The Clean Air Task Force (CATF) came to the UK in November to film at onshore oil and gas sites where methane had been detected and reported leaking and venting in 2021. The filming provided an important followup to the Global Methane Pledge, which was a major positive outcome of the COP26 summit.
At onshore oil and gas sites in the UK, methane and other gases associated with the production of oil are routinely flared and/or vented directly into the atmosphere. There is also venting from storage tanks, leaking from separator tanks, and other leaks and emissions generated during well workovers and transport.
A SECA knowledge sharing session in March 2022 highlighted a lack of regulatory oversight of the sector. Methane is the second most important greenhouse gas after CO2, though it has a lifetime in the atmosphere of just 12 years, meaning efforts to reduce it will bring immediate benefits in reducing global warming.
Oil companies in the UK are regulated by the North Sea Transition Authority and are told to operate using best available techniques to deal with the associated gases. They often apply for planning permission, as was the case with IGas Energy’s Singleton wells in West Sussex, saying they plan to capture the gas and feed it back into the grid. IGas applied for permission to compress the gas for transport off site. However, they have not done this. Instead they flare (burn) and cold vent (release) tonnes of toxic methane and other VOCs directly into the atmosphere.
When CATF’s James Turrito toured England in 2021, he discovered significant emissions of methane at most of the onshore oil sites he visited. November’s return visit detected similar leaks and venting at the IGas sites in Singleton, Horndean, and Larkwhistle near Stockbridge, where the BBC joined the CATF team to film a news segment on methane emissions.
CATF’s Theo Humann and Emily Mott from the Weald Action Group met with Viviane Doussy and Tony Whitbread of SECA at IGas’s Storrington oil well. Using a thermal imaging camera they found visible methane emissions but it was difficult to identify the source due to the bund walls that the company had erected around the site.
At Horse Hill in Surrey, listed energy company UKOG is seeking permission to flare up to 10 tonnes of natural methane a day. This would be enough gas to heat over 3,000 homes in a year — although to do so would require construction of significant gas gathering and distribution infrastructure and the oil companies argue that it would not be economically viable.
At COP26 in November 2021, the Glasgow Climate Pact secured an agreement to reduce methane emissions by 2030. The UK was the first signatory to the Global Methane Pledge, which committed to collectively reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued a memorandum in November 2022, setting out progress to date on cutting overall UK methane emissions, which fell by 62% between 1990 and 2020, and planned measures to secure future progress.
The energy sector accounts for 11% of UK’s methane emissions, according to government figures. This is well behind the 48% that comes from agriculture and the 41% from waste disposal, but reducing methane leakage from those sources would be more complex than cutting emissions from the oil and gas industry.
SECA members from the Weald Action Group have been campaigning against new oil development in the southeast since 2016. What are our goals? To raise awareness of the pollution and environmental degradation and to inhibit further growth of the oil industry. We campaign with locals and help spread the word and lobby regional and national officials about the pollution so we can avoid project creep that allows small companies in rural areas to keep extending their plans decade after decade.
Companies should monitor for leaks and repair them, and flare not cold vent the smaller amounts, using an auto-ignition system, and should capture the larger emissions.
In Surrey, Sussex and across the southeast, we need to advocate for better rules that protect clean air, water and our health from mining and drilling. We need to put pressure on these oil companies to capture the gas, close up shop, and restore the sites so we can regenerate the land. Together, we can hold these polluting industries and government accountable and reform our inadequate and outdated system.
Weald Action Group can be contacted at email@example.com.