Ralph Burton is a Research Scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), UK. He specialises in modelling atmospheric dispersion and in numerical weather prediction modelling, and the coupling between the two.
In-situ measurement of emissions (such as methane and ethane) from offshore oil and gas platforms is difficult, and limited, due to logistical problems. However, information about such emissions is vital to both the oil and gas industry and environmental monitors. In context, the energy supply sector was responsible for 11% of the UK's methane emissions in 2016.
Starting with the Elgin uncontrolled leak in 2012, the UK National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) has made repeated airborne measurements of a variety of gases originating from offshore platforms, using a large atmospheric research aircraft, a highly modified BAe-146. More recently (starting in 2017), NCAS has worked together with the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the UK Offshore Petroleum Regulator for Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) and the Ricardo environmental consultancy to make an airborne survey of emissions from multiple platforms in the North Sea. A total of 11 gas measurement flights were conducted in 2018, with more flights planned for March 2019.
A novel set of techniques have been developed to estimate emission rates from individual platforms, based upon these aircraft measurements. The methods will be described, case studies presented and the current status of the project discussed. Results will be presented for methane and ethane emissions and these emission rates will be related to, and compared with, the established monitoring and reporting framework.
This new approach demonstrates the feasibility of comprehensive airborne monitoring of atmospheric emissions from remote offshore locations.
Note: The National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) is a world-leading centre of atmospheric science, and carries out research on themes such air pollution, long-term global change and high-impact weather, amongst others. Funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, NCAS has its staff and facilities distributed around the UK, with Headquarters in Leeds.