Improved understanding of accidental releases from oil and gas industries offshore.

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Chemistry


A wide range of potential scenarios exist where an uncontrolled or accidental release of chemicals to the ocean and atmosphere may occur, arising from offshore oil and gas industrial activities. These encompass gas and liquid leaks during the drilling and extraction process, potentially including hydrocarbon evaporation to air from surface seawater pollution, and the loss of bulk or refined products during hydrocarbon transport via pipelines and shipping. Such releases have the potential to create major environmental impacts, result in suspension of activities with associated losses of industrial and government revenues and cause severe reputational damage to companies. Undoubtedly many small incidents pose little environmental threat but the paucity of background data makes it difficult to separate significant from insignificant events.

Emissions to the atmosphere from routine operational activities are legislated via national and international agreements. However there is very limited scientific or technical capability to support environmental decision-making during one-off or uncontrolled releases to air. The BP Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 showed a lack of capability within both industry and regulators to undertake a rapid assessment of the scale of emissions, and a complete absence of background atmospheric data against which the impacts of the event could be compared. Off-shore atmospheric releases are particularly difficult to respond to - only large and well equipped research aircraft with long range/duration can make the necessary low level boundary layer measurements in the field. Aircraft sampling platforms must be supported by a functional deployment plan with a tested experimental design, advanced laboratory capabilities for gas phase measurement and traceability, and appropriate dispersion modelling.

This NERC innovation project aims to address directly a number of lessons-learned from the response to the Total Elgin event, and create a much-improved robust capability to support decision-making for future events, in the North sea and elsewhere. The project aims to translate environmental science and technology capabilities to support decision-making in the oil and gas sector in the event of accidental events.

Key aims are as follows:
1. Using a set of representative FAAM146 survey flights establish the background variability and spatial distributions of methane and non-methane hydrocarbons in regions of intensive existing oil and gas activity in the North Sea.
2. Apply innovative atmospheric dispersion modelling tools, in combination with the new background data, to estimate a statistical distribution of the scale and extent of existing fugitive sources from current activities.
3. Develop and test a response plan for the detection and characterisation of evaporative emissions from liquid spills to the sea-surface, including bulk materials and refined products, through modification of an atmospheric science research instrument already certified for the FAAM aircraft.
4. Working with the FAAM aircraft operators develop an operational plan and safety case for the fast deployment of the aircraft for detection and response to oil and gas events in the Arctic ocean.
Description There are highly variable emissions from current off-shore oil and gas installations, and these new properly quantifying to establish the contributions to national GHG emissions and the impacts on regional air quality. The aircraft based methods developed for this project allow for more direct standoff assessment of emission rates, and these are being discussed with industry as a possible means to reduce costs of demonstrating compliance with regulation.
Exploitation Route In discussion with some offshore operators and DECC as regulator about how these methods and data can be used more routinely. new assessment of CH4 emissions has been provided to BEIS and the inventories for emissions are being considered for updating in the Ricardo estimates that UK submits to UNFCCC.
Sectors Energy,Environment

Description Improved estimated of the emissions to air from oil and gas installations has been provided to operators and to regulators. The work has lead to further research establishing the environmental impacts on expansion in fracking in the UK. Surveys of various off shore installations have been completed using the FAAM research aircraft and plus engagement with BEIS and Ricardo to potentially update methodologies and emissions inventories.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Energy,Environment
Impact Types Economic,Policy & public services

Description Demonstration Of A Comprehensive Approach To Monitoring Emissions From Oil and Gas Installations (AEOG)
Amount £270,143 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R01454X/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 06/2019
Description Oil and gas offshore emissions estimates 
Organisation Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Engagement with the government department BEIS and consultancy Ricardo on improved inventory estimates of offshore oil and gas rig methane emissions. Engagement with Oil and Gas UK industry body. Data used by government department for future updates to methodologies and inclusion in the National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of information on existing methane measurement methodologies and data on oil and gas activity.
Impact Datasets at CEDA on oil and gas rig emissions of methane and NOx.
Start Year 2017
Description Lectures/talks/debates 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Three public lecture given on 'atmospheric pollution, from kerbside to global', part of the John Jeyes Award lecture series.
RSC Public lecture series on air pollution.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2015