Power to the platforms – to foster a clean future - comment

The electrification of production platforms can help the oil & gas sector towards 2050 net zero targets, says David Clark, group energy director at Lloyd’s Register.

Oil and gas will remain an important part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future, says Clark. Picture: contributed.

The scale of the challenge in decarbonising our economy cannot be underestimated. As we all know, oil and gas will remain an important part of our energy mix for the foreseeable future – the Committee on Climate Change’s “Net Zero” report recognises that our demand for gas will continue, with a projected decline of just 32 per cent by 2050.

We will still rely on gas for some time to come, so the economic recovery of hydrocarbons from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) will remain key in meeting these energy demands and reducing the UK’s reliance on imports.

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The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has recently published Phase 1 of its UKCS Energy Integration report, which examines the technical feasibility of a range of low-carbon build-out options – with the overall goal of reducing the CO2 impact of the oil and gas sector.

Top of the list for early implementation is platform electrification, followed by gas-to-wire, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen (both blue and green) and energy hubs.

An early win

Platform electrification offers the opportunity for perhaps the most straightforward early win. There is the opportunity to capitalise now on the synergies that exist within the UK’s burgeoning offshore wind sector, with potential to share infrastructure as well as expertise and knowledge.

Already, we see a significant build-out of major wind farms in the Southern North Sea, with further leasing rounds by the Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland guaranteed to bring more activity further north and into deeper water – and therefore into proximity with oil and gas infrastructure. Add to this planned interconnectors between the UK and continental Europe and the opportunity to work in concert is clear.

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The report examines all potential options, including generation at sea and floating nuclear; however, its capital expenditure analysis suggests the most attractive investment opportunities will be connecting platforms direct to shore, connecting to offshore wind farms and tying into interconnectors.

Retrofitting any of these solutions to existing platforms will come at a cost, and the report suggests the case will be strongest for new fields such as West of Shetland, where production will continue for many decades ahead. As we look forward, we can take great encouragement from progress already made.

Power to the platforms

In the Netherlands, Neptune’s Q13A-A production platform has been electrified from the shore, saving around 14,000 tons of CO2 per year. More ambitious still is Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup field in the Central North Sea, which came onstream in October. It is Norway’s third-largest field and is now already producing 350,000 barrels per day.

By powering the field almost entirely by hydroelectric power from shore, they have managed to slash emissions to just 0.67kg — or 4 per cent of the world average — per barrel produced. This means the field will avoid emissions of more than 620,000 tonnes of CO2 every single year. Replicating this kind of initiative in the UKCS would mean significant impact.

And I believe the appetite is there. The downturn brought tough years, but today we have a much leaner industry with a new influx of agile companies keen to innovate and make a success of the UKCS.

Ensuring the workforce is skilled for the future

This transition to an integrated energy future requires a skilled workforce and the development of expertise across the value chain of all energy sectors. The foundation of our team at Lloyd’s Register is engineering excellence, married with data, analytics and the effective utilisation of technology.

As well as recruiting experts in critical infrastructure, renewables and low carbon, we are actively developing our people who have a background in oil and gas and many now have applied experience working across the energy mix.

The green economy will only continue to grow and if the UK can capitalise on its maritime strengths, there will be further opportunities in new sectors such as gas to wire, carbon capture and storage and the generation of hydrogen, both green and blue.

World energy demand continues to rise, and we will still have a significant need for oil and gas in the foreseeable future. But not all barrels are created equal — and it’s important that the oil we do produce is produced as cleanly as possible.

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