Could renewable and digital technology come together to revolutionise an ageing oil basin?
For thousands of years, humans have worked together to achieve incredible things. When we look back at the world 12 months ago, could we have imagined finding multiple vaccines for a global pandemic that are being given to millions of people every day? It’s proof of what is possible when different industries come together to fund, develop and distribute something we desperately need to survive.
But as we begin to overcome one pressing global issue, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. There is another pressing issue that we need to solve, and the stakes have never been higher.
The energy transition is both our greatest opportunity and our greatest threat
We may have figured out how to extract energy sources from the earth and use them to power our lives, but it’s come at a cost. The excess carbon dioxide is trapping heat in our atmosphere and having a negative effect on our planet.
However, we’ve become dependent on this energy and we’re experiencing the impact it has on our natural environment. We need to find the solutions now to transform our energy systems, while keeping the lights on and our industries fueled, but using a fraction of the carbon emissions.
What does this mean for an ageing oil basin?
The UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) has produced around 45 billion barrels of oil since production began in 1967, and there’s still over 20 billion barrels of oil remaining. Today, producing and extracting oil and gas is responsible for around 3.5 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, but we must reduce this figure.
We’ve already made progress toward net zero via Road Map 2035, but there’s a lot left to do. Oil and gas producers are struggling to retain their social license to operate and meet their carbon reduction targets, while they supply the energy we need to maintain the day-to-day life we take for granted.
Adding new technology to old assets
With an ageing basin, it’s normal to see assets come to the end of their life, but what if instead of decommissioning assets, we can repurpose them, extend their life and upgrade them so they emit a fraction of the carbon dioxide?
The decarbonisation drive starts by benchmarking and publishing carbon metric data. This data is key to understanding how we get to net zero, by using new technologies to forecast production emissions and measure the carbon intensity of modification work.
This means we can estimate how much carbon we’ll emit by carrying out modification work, weighed against how much carbon will be emitted after. This output is then used to formulate decisions that will result in the fewest carbon emissions.
We’re seeing this with the shift in normally staffed assets becoming not permanently staffed assets, as new digital technologies enable less personnel onboard. With less travel and less need for supply boats, we’re emitting less carbon dioxide, while making the UKCS safer and our journey to net zero continues.
Powering oil and gas with renewables
While net zero is one of the industry’s biggest challenges, it’s also one of the biggest enablers for both innovation and cross sector collaboration. Oil and gas production assets need to become greener, so what if we powered these facilities with renewable energy sources?
By powering assets with renewable electricity instead of traditional gas, we remove the need for gas turbines that require ongoing maintenance and there’s a growing renewables industry ready to make this happen.
But the UK supply chain needs to work together to make sure we can overcome the challenges we are facing, while having a positive environmental and economic impact. We can take the tried and tested knowledge from oil and gas and combine it with the current innovation around renewables and in doing so we can accelerate the adoption of renewable energy while decarbonising the hydrocarbon industry.
From the North Sea to the world
In order to make all of this happen, our supply chain contracting model needs to change. How we deliver projects in the future will be assessed on the proportionate value they bring to the client and the climate – low cost reliable delivery solutions will be key. We are now seeing encouragement for more green contracting models through global companies that deliver locally, supported by the North Sea Transition Deal.
If we bring together the technological capabilities of oil and gas, the availability of renewable energy resources, digital technology and the societal demand for decarbonisation, the North Sea could become an example of a collaborative decarbonisation powerhouse. We can then lead the world in the transition to low carbon solutions as we export this knowledge around the world.
Decarbonising the UKCS isn’t going to be simple and there’s a lot of pressure to get it right, but as we remain focused on delivering a more sustainable world, I’ve never had more faith that we can make it happen!
Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE.