Upstream operations account for 2.2 percent of Denmark's emissions

Gas burned at Danish oil rigs emits 1 million tons of CO2 per year and is not declining in step with actual output. Several sources say green alternatives are available.
Photo: Magnus Holm/Politiken/Ritzau Scanpix
Photo: Magnus Holm/Politiken/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark's upstream fossil fuel operations account for around 3 percent of Denmark's total CO2 emissions – which is to say, before the extracted oil and gas is used for fuel in cars and power plants.

Solely the gas used to operate the rigs emitted 1.14 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2018, corresponding to 2.2 percent of the country's combined emissions, show numbers EnergyWatch has crunched based on the latest data from the Danish Energy Agency (DEA).

Furthermore, the burning of surplus gas, dubbed flaring, accounts for an additional 0.6 percent of total domestic emissions, while a smaller volume is also released into the atmosphere in form of fugitive emissions, meaning gas from leaks and other purposeful or unintended releases.

Out of step with output

In the years up to 2018, emissions from fossil fuel operations were even larger. The North Sea rigs contributed 1.2 million tons of CO2 in 2016, while the figure was 1.24 million tons in 2017.

Fuel consumption was otherwise at the lowest level since 1997. In 2018, 572 million Sm3 were burned to power the rigs, but usage topped in 2007 at 711 million Sm3.

This, however, should be seen in light of output having declined markedly during the same years, and, in fact, extracted volumes have decreased substantially more than fuel consumption.

Fuel use has fallen by 22 percent since 2004, while output dropped by 68 percent during the same period.

Electrification could be tough

There are alternatives to powering rigs by burning gas, and these could also help reduce CO2 emissions.

In Norway, the sector has plans for the area in connection with the official target for climate-neutral upstream activities from 2050. The industry plans to boost the electrification of its rigs, improve efficiency and optimize energy use. This power will mainly come from wind turbines.

A similar solution could be implemented on the Danish Continental Shelf, several players say.

In December, the Danish Underground Consortium's newest member, Noreco, argued that the Danish shelf could become the world's first fully electrified upstream oil and gas setup.

"As I see it, it's possible, if we keep working well on it, then Denmark could become the first fully electrified continental shelf in the world," said Noreco Chief Riulf Rustad at the time.

As EnergyWatch also reported last month, Danish engineering consultancy Rambøll compiled estimates showing that a single offshore wind farm could cover the entire domestic sector's power needs – and that the solution could become fully economically viable.

However, for electrification to succeed, a few hurdles need to first be overcome.

First and foremost, it poses a challenge that no cables were laid at the same time as pipelines were installed, and, beyond that, the fields in the Danish North Sea are spread out. These are also smaller than their Norwegian counterparts.

"Too expensive"

Moreover, the price is an issue that needs to be dealt with.

Analyst firm Wood Mackenzie has previously estimated that CO2 reductions of up to 30 percent could have been achieved had Total chosen to electrify the Tyra field, which is currently undergoing reestablishment. Right now, Tyra covers 90 percent of all processed gas in Denmark.

The new Tyra will have electrical engines, so the possibility of electrifying the field remains. And that need not come from an offshore wind farm. It could be done by pulling cables from the shore.

However, Total has previously told EnergyWatch that the possibility was deemed too expensive when the project was planned, years ago.

"That was a possibility that we investigated. The Danish Energy Agency and Energinet [Danish transmission system operator, -ed.] were also involved. But at the time of defining the concept, the idea was scrapped. It was deemed too expensive," said the company’s managing director of E&P Denmark, Patrick Gilly.

Complete or partial electrification of the Danish shelf would have otherwise potentially reduced the industry’s emissions.

Minister must act

Besides fuel, emissions from oil extraction also come from flaring – the burning of natural gas. As EnergyWatch reported last week, flaring makes up 0.6 percent of total Danish emissions.

Moreover, the pollution from Danish flaring is noticeably greater per unit than in neighboring Norway, where the practice is prohibited and subject to fines – unlike in Denmark.

On Monday, this prompted Signe Munk, energy spokesperson of Denmark’s Socialist People’s Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti, SF), to submit an inquiry to Climate, Energy and Utilities Minister Dan Jørgensen (Social Democratic Party).

"Will the minister give an account of the background to the difference, including the role played by regulation of flaring in Denmark and Norway, respectively? And will the minister inform how much CO2 emissions would be reduced if flaring from Danish production in the North Sea were brought down to Norwegian levels?" she asks.

The government’s other supporting parties, the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) and the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre), have requested an explanation from the energy minister on the flaring matter.

English Edit. Daniel Frank Christensen & Jonas Sahl Jørgensen

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