The North Sea region is where our offshore teams have, for more than 50 years, tackled harsh weather and challenging conditions to supply the energy that keeps our world moving. It’s with that same spirit that the team is approaching the challenge of continuing to produce a reliable source of energy for the world while also cutting emissions.
Sam Coupland is our North Sea business’s carbon advisor. He says: “There’s a lot of drive in the team to reduce carbon. Facilities like Glen Lyon have already made tremendous progress.”
Glen Lyon is our floating production, storage and offloading (FPSO) facility – an 885-foot steel vessel as big as the UK Houses of Parliament – that celebrates its fifth anniversary this month. It was the result of more than 33 million hours and a multibillion-pound investment by bp and partners to unlock further resources from the Schiehallion area, west of Shetland.
And in the five years since start up, it has successfully delivered 120 million barrels from three fields. Up to 140 crew are onboard at any one time, each making the 45-minute helicopter journey from Shetland. And once onboard, the team’s mission is clear: to safely and efficiently produce the energy the world needs and wants while driving down emissions.
In the two years since bp announced its own net zero ambition, the average annual emissions from the Glen Lyon vessel have reduced by nearly 100,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent1.
The flare is one of the most symbolic parts of an offshore installation – it’s a flame that is a critical part of the safety system that can also burn excess natural gas to manage pressure at the facility and, in the process, releases greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Keeping flaring to a safe minimum is, therefore, part of bp’s commitment to maintaining safe and reliable operations while working towards net zero production.
On Glen Lyon, this has been achieved with a newly installed flare gas recovery system, which compresses and treats excess gas that would usually have been flared, as well as excess gas that would otherwise be vented from the cargo tanks. So rather than combusted, this gas can be exported via a pipeline to Shetland before onward delivery into the UK gas network via the St Fergus terminal, near Peterhead.
The process has eliminated routine gas flaring at the site, preventing more than 36,000 tonnes of GHGs from reaching the atmosphere every year. That’s the equivalent of taking almost 22,000 average UK cars off the road each year.
Production team leader Callum Wood says the moment the flare went out was an emotional one: “It was a big representation of all the work the team had put in. Now, whenever we’re planning operational work, we’re always thinking about how we can avoid routing gas to the flare. That’s an important mindset.”
Flaring during restarts has significantly dropped too, from around 300 tonnes of gas flared to 100 tonnes, with work ongoing to reduce this even further.
Not satisfied with achieving zero routine flaring during steady operations, the team went on to look at how they could minimize flaring when the facility is restarted following a shut down. Restart historically results in excess flaring as the plant and reservoir are pressurized.
After reviewing the restart process, the team discovered that the volume of gas sent to the flare could be dramatically reduced by shortening the time to start gas compression stages.
Matt Dunning, production management squad lead
Switching off the gas power is another way to save emissions and something the team is trialling. Many offshore oil and gas facilities make their own power for heat, light and onboard operations. On Glen Lyon – during normal operations – that has typically involved running three gas turbines. But to cut emissions, the team is moving towards two turbines. Trials are ongoing, but if successful, the team could potentially save up to 25,000 tonnes of carbon emissions a year.
The team sets and tracks bi-weekly targets for carbon emissions
When it comes to tackling emissions, the Glen Lyon team talks about ‘mindset’ again and again. At its heart that means making emissions reductions part of every conversation.
“At the fore are discussions regarding minimizing emissions, putting safety and the environment before any other business decisions,” says Steve Rees, offshore installation manager. And to chart progress, the team sets and tracks bi-weekly targets for carbon emissions alongside more conventional production targets, such as oil, gas and water injection. We are treating carbon as ‘the fourth fluid’.”
From drones to computer models, Glen Lyon is also testing some of the latest technologies that could help our industry to better measure methane.
In 2020, Glen Lyon conducted the longest-ever civilian ‘beyond line of sight’ drone flight as part of an industry pilot project with the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) that used drones and NASA-designed sensor technology to measure methane. The methane-detecting drones from the collaboration between Flylogix (BVLOS drone service provider) and SeekOps (methane sensing technology provider) have since completed a series of flights with lower emissions detection limits, allowing for more accurate data to be recorded.
Peter Evans, environmental engineering lead at bp, says: “Having an informed understanding of methane emissions and confidence in the readings allows us to make targeted interventions to then reduce those emissions.”
As well as onboard the FPSO, bp’s supply chain partners are making their own great strides to help lower emissions in their operations.
That’s seen supply vessels servicing the Glen Lyon retrofitted with battery hybrid technology. Adopting this hybridized model not only potentially reduces fuel use by 20%, which can lead to annual savings of around 8,200 metric tonnes of CO2 per vessel for the same journeys, but also readies them for integration with future technologies.
Meanwhile, Altera – the company that provides shuttle tankers to transport the oil from Glen Lyon – has also been introducing its new fleet of e-shuttle tankers to the North Sea. These vessels are equipped with 1,800kWh battery packs, and by running on both LNG and VOC, they substantially reduce fuel consumption and emissions.
Longer term, work is under way to investigate how to electrify the power supply to offshore oil and gas facilities in the North Sea – either through power cables from land or by wind turbines.
We’re collaborating with other operators on a high-level study project that is looking into the feasibility of the electrification of a number of oil and gas production hubs in the Central North Sea region.
In the future, North Sea assets could be powered by offshore wind-generated electricity
One of the Glen Lyon crew looks out to a supply vessel
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