Photo: One of the leaking gas craters; Source: © Greenpeace

Greenpeace finds methane leak active for 30 years in UK North Sea

Environmental group Greenpeace has located two large methane leaks at an old offshore well site in the UK North Sea.

Greenpeace said on Monday that its patrol ship Esperanza located two “gas-emitting craters” on the seabed.

According to the organization, the leaks were caused by a blowout during a drilling operation in 1990, and they are still releasing the powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

The craters lie at about 100 metres water depth and are between 50 and 15 meters in diameter and up to 20 and 9 meters deep, respectively.

Sandra Schöttner, a marine biologist who heads the scientific team aboard the Esperanza, said: “Like many places across the North Sea, climate-destroying methane has been leaking here for decades, yet the oil and gas industry, instead of closing the leak and monitoring it, continues to drill holes in the sea bed, while decision-makers turn a blind eye”.

According to Greenpeace, the leaks are a result of a drilling accident during a 1990 exploration campaign for then-operator Mobil North Sea – now ExxonMobil.

The High Seas Driller rig was targeting an oil reservoir at well site UK22/4b, but it found a gas pocket instead, resulting in a blowout large enough to create the 15-to-50-yard craters on the seabed. Greenpeace said that it revisited the site with an ROV and found that the craters were still leaking.

Esperanza vessel lowering an ROV to inspect the leak; Source: © Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace
Esperanza vessel lowering an ROV to inspect the leak; Source: © Marten van Dijl / Greenpeace

An international team of scientists had previously been to this site and estimated in 2015 that up to 90 litres of methane per second were being released. Custody of the site now resides with the UK government, which has opted to wait for the reservoir to release its contents, Greenpeace claimed.

“The oil and gas industry has been fuelling the climate crisis and polluting our oceans for decades. This industry does not belong in the new green world we need to build after the pandemic.

We need a rapid change to renewable energies and a just shift of fossil fuel workers to industries with a future. We need governments to bail out the climate and workers, not the polluters”, Schöttner added.

Greenpeace also stated that a recent independent study estimated a total of 8,000–30,000 tonnes of methane per year escapes from gas leaks from more than 15,000 boreholes in the North Sea – adding to the 72,000 tonnes of methane that normal operations of platforms in the North Sea release every year.

In recent news, four Greenpeace activists occupied the Dan Bravo oil platform which is located on the Dan field in the Danish North Sea.

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