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Methane Leaks from Oil and Gas Production

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 19 September 2023

The Government have ambitious plans to tackle methane emissions from oil and gas production. With support from Government and key regulators, industry is on track to end routine flaring and venting prior to 2030, in line with the World Bank’s initiative.

While I welcome the Government’s introduction of new oil and gas licences in the North sea as part of a just and graduated transition to more reliance on renewables, the Minister will be aware that methane is a far more warming gas than carbon dioxide. Given that much more can be done, will the Government look at how they can ensure that flaring, venting and leaks are fixed by the new licence holders as and when they occur and, in the context of the North sea transition plan, ensure that the new Affleck oil field is not allowed to flare until 2037, as set out in the permission granted to it? This is all part of how we can reach net zero without it costing my constituents the earth.

The North Sea Transition Authority already expects methane emissions to be as low as possible and all new developments to be developed on the basis of zero routine flaring and venting, and that they should be electrified or electrification-ready. Of course, what is required and will help facilitate that is new investment in the North sea facilitated by licences, without which we are unlikely to see the reduction in emissions that we have so successfully driven so far.

The Minister has not really given any reassurance to the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard). As we know, methane is a whopping 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, so if the Minister is serious about tackling this issue, will he explain why the Government failed to use the Energy Bill to ban flaring and venting? Why did they whip their own MPs to vote against an amendment that would have outlawed it, and given that the practice has been illegal in Norway since the 1970s, will he finally recognise that this makes a mockery of Ministers’ claims about UK oil and gas being greener?

Unusually, the hon. Lady has got her facts wrong: I do not think that amendment was even selected for debate that day. According to the North Sea Transition Authority, flaring was reduced by more than 10% just last year, contributing to a reduction of nearly 50% between 2018 and 2022. As I have said, the North Sea Transition Authority estimates that methane emissions have fallen by more than 40% to fewer than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent—a record low. We have old existing infrastructure and are moving with a maximum of ambition to reduce emissions, and we have a successful track record to date.