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NEWS & INSIGHT | Opinion

Capturing the Fugitives: Rapid Innovation Needed to Reduce Offshore Emissions

16 October 2020
Written by Rebecca Allison

I think it’s safe to say that we’re well and truly in a transition period. As an industry, we know that to survive and thrive we must be able to change and adapt. The industry has signed up to Roadmap 2035 and has adopted ambitious targets to become net zero by 2050.

To me, there are two key questions that need to be addressed: do we know what needs to be done as an industry, an organisation or even as individuals to achieve this target and is the North Sea ready to adopt these changes?

In simple terms the answer is yes – the last three years have been a story of rapid innovation and technology adoption in the North Sea.  Working with our partners in the supply chain and oil and gas operating companies, we have successfully delivered 108 projects introducing a range of new technologies in robotics, corrosion management and digital inspection technologies.  If we have learned anything from the projects we support, then it is that we have outstanding technology developers in the supply chain and committed operators willing to try new technology in the field.  Crucially, we know how to get rapid innovation done safely.

A few weeks ago, we launched our Closing the Gap report.  It highlights the need to accelerate adoption of technologies we have been developing over the last three years – such as the work we have undertaken to raise awareness of non-intrusive inspection and the use of data analytics and digital twins, as well as robotic systems capable of measuring and detecting corrosion. All of these are technologies that can help meet daily operational targets for emissions detection and reduction.

But continued technological innovation remains imperative if we’re going to meet our emission reduction goals. For instance, one of the major issues we face in the reducing North Sea emissions is not accurately knowing how much we emit in the first place.

That’s why the OGTC is supporting a range of exciting and transformative projects in this area: the remote methane sensing project with technology companies, Flylogix and SeekOps, ­­is a perfect example.

Within the next 12 months, we will be able to accurately monitor the methane emissions from individual offshore assets. By determining what we could only previously guesstimate, we will be in a position to measure the impact we have over the coming years.

Measuring what we produce is a start, but for North East Scotland’s community of engineers, scientists, operators, drilling and service companies, whose job it is to keep oil flowing and gas pumping, how does this fit into the future? Although it is often overlooked, each of them has a major, vital and practical role to play in reducing emissions. We just need to look at these roles and expertise through a slightly different lens.

For instance, a critical part of integrity management is about keeping hydrocarbons inside the pipes to prevent leaks or emissions. This means that a corrosion engineer is helping us reduce emissions, and therefore contributing to reaching net zero targets.

Keeping our platforms operational will also mean we don’t have to flare and vent and will help us meet our 2030 target on that metric. Likewise, every drilling engineer who uses automation for cleaner drilling, or every coatings and materials engineer whose makes operational improvements, plays a role in emissions reduction.

We need to look at energy transition as an engineering challenge and something we should embrace with gusto. 50 years ago, when the Forties Field was discovered, the big engineering challenge was being able to drill holes in the North Sea at enormous depths in hostile seas. Nobody knew how to do it, but the North East’s engineers solved the problem.

Today, the challenge is operating in the North Sea in a net-zero compliant way. If we look at this as another engineering challenge, rather than a net zero or energy transition problem, it suddenly seems a whole lot clearer.  With a powerful combination of technological innovation and engineering prowess, the North East’s renowned energy supply chain community will rise to that challenge.

Together let’s embrace that challenge!

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