In 2018, the Dutch oil and gas industry took the decision to launch a methane reduction programme. In 2019, representatives of the industry and the then Minister of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy signed a covenant in which the sector promised to halve its methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, by the end of 2020. In fact, the industry managed to exceed this goal. On 31 December 2020, methane emissions from offshore activities were 51% lower than they had been in 2017. Combined with the subsequent effects of the final measures taken in the fourth quarter of 2020, offshore methane emissions were ultimately 57% lower by 1 April 2021 (}see the full report here). The State Supervision of Mines (SSM) is conducting an evaluation on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy to appraise the results as reported. This evaluation is expected to be completed in the autumn of this year.
Menno Snel, Chairman of NOGEPA: “Natural gas and the gas sector as a whole play an important role in our energy mix today, and will continue to do so throughout the energy transition. Gas produced in the Netherlands is preferable to imported gas because of its significantly lower climate footprint compared to imported natural gas. As long as we have our own natural gas reserves (not counting those in the Groningen field) and there is domestic demand for gas, the sector will ensure that gas production takes place in the safest and most responsible way possible. We are therefore always looking for ways to improve our performance even further. Only in this way, by taking our responsibility for the energy transition seriously, can we ensure that our sector is ready and willing to make its contribution not just tomorrow, but further down the line too. This achievement is the result of intensive cooperation in the sector, which has a lot of technical knowledge, with a focus on the objectives of the Climate Agreement.”
Future emission reductions
Not content with halving methane emissions, producers are now also looking at measures to further reduce CO2 emissions. These include possibilities for optimisations throughout the entire gas chain – from gas production and processing to transport and distribution. The electrification of oil and gas installations is an important opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions. In the covenant, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy promised to study how the preconditions for electrification can be met. For example, the new Energy Act should make it possible for electricity generated offshore to be used offshore by connecting to the offshore electricity grid. Electrification of oil and gas installations has a number of advantages: it greatly reduces CO2 emissions, for example, and the natural gas that is now used offshore to generate energy for the production process could then be transported to land for delivery to Dutch customers. Furthermore, electrification is necessary in order to enable these installations for alternative future uses – after gas production has ended – in the context of the energy transition, such as the storage of CO2 and the production and transport of hydrogen produced offshore.
In 2017, total greenhouse gas emissions in the Netherlands amounted to 193.7 million tonnes of CO2eq. Methane emissions, which are part of greenhouse gas emissions, amounted to 720 thousand tonnes in 2017. Converted into CO2 equivalents, this is 18 million tonnes, or 9.3% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In the same year, emissions from the entire gas chain (exploration, production, transport and distribution) amounted to 22 thousand tonnes of methane (0.55 million tonnes of CO2eq). The gas sector is therefore responsible for 3% of all Dutch methane emissions, or approximately 0.33% of all greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq) in the Netherlands. Despite the modest size of these emissions, the Dutch oil and gas sector wants to play its part in limiting climate change.
During the implementation of the Covenant, it was found that methane emissions in the reference year of 2017 were actually higher than had originally been reported. In order to remove these agreements from the Covenant, the industry had to reduce by 9% more than originally anticipated. Nevertheless, the additional reduction was successfully achieved. By the end of 2020, methane emissions were 4,792 tonnes lower than in 2017. This is equivalent to reducing emissions by 120,000 tonnes of CO2.
In 2018, NOGEPA published an improved protocol for measuring and reporting methane emissions. All operators now use this protocol, which has been agreed with the State Supervision of Mines (SSM). Also in 2018, TNO carried out an offshore measurement campaign to verify whether the emissions reported by the operators in accordance with this protocol actually corresponded to what was measured offshore. This was found convincingly to be the case.
What measures have been taken?
The selection of reduction measures was based on the technologies that could be used to achieve the greatest emission reductions. One of the factors was cost-effectiveness. In other words, how to lower emissions as much as possible as efficiently as possible. Key measures in the reduction programme include the reuse of process gas for energy generation, the recycling of residual gases in the production process, and a targeted approach to replacing leaking safety valves. Numerous operational measures were also taken. Together, all these measures have served to optimise the process of gas treatment and compression on numerous offshore installations.
In October 2020, the European Commission published an initiative to achieve methane reductions in the energy sector. The Dutch oil and gas sector has shared the knowledge and experience gained in the implementation of its own reduction programme with the Commission. The sector has also regularly sought coordination with the supervisory authority (State Supervision of Mines), the competent authority (the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy) and environmental organisations (including the Environmental Defence Fund).