The analysis by Greenpeace's investigative arm shows that Repsol Sinopec, Total, Shell, BP and EnQuest were the top five worst companies for flaring and venting in the North Sea

Arctic oil and gas

Greenpeace's analysis shows that almost 20 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent were released in the five years to 2019 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/CSIRO)

North Sea oil and gas firms emit as many emissions as a coal plant each year through flaring and venting, according to a report.

The analysis by Unearthed, the investigative arm of climate campaigner Greenpeace, claims that figures obtained through Environmental Information Regulations requests show that almost 20 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 equivalent were released in the five years to 2019.

For the first time, the research names the worst companies for flaring and venting – the practice of deliberately burning off gas produced together with oil from reservoirs – with Repsol Sinopec, Total, Shell, BP and EnQuest listed in the top five.

Environmental campaigners have continuously blasted the UK government’s efforts to keep emissions in check, with Greenpeace questioning its “inadequate plans” to move away from oil and gas in order to meet the nation’s climate targets and obligations.

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.”


UK regulations on flaring and venting in North Sea are “weak”

Greenpeace is calling for an end to new oil and gas licensing, shifting instead to a “prosperous renewables sector” that supports the 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.

“To stand any chance of meeting our climate targets we need strong government action to regulate this industry and secure a safe and fair phase out of oil and gas that supports workers and communities,” said Evans.

“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.”

Norway banned non-emergency flaring in 1972, but Greenpeace claims the UK restrictions on flaring and venting set by the Oil and Gas Authority are “weak”.

The authority’s 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, according to the campaigner’s report.

Its 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 and 2019, Total’s North Sea operations released 637,598 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere – largely from its Elgin field, which the firm claims is comprised of 3-4% carbon dioxide. Elgin also vented more methane in 2019 than any other platform.