Illustration from the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA)

Tackling triple challenge of production, emissions, and net zero spurs North Sea’s technological innovation

As the global offshore energy industry takes steps to evolve in line with emerging technological innovations, the UK regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) points out that the North Sea is increasingly becoming a hotbed of activity aimed at employing new technology to enable the strengthening of energy security, decarbonization, and the transition to low-carbon and clean energy. 

Illustration; Source: The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA)

The UK regulator’s 2023 Technology Insights have revealed that 1,200 new technologies, including aerial drones and self-driving subsea vehicles, were reported in the last survey, compared to 1,080 in 2022 and 880 in 2021. 

With 55 operators contributing to the NSTA survey, the findings show that innovations in the fields of net zero and digital technologies have risen. While the former jumped from 61 recorded in 2021 to 130 in 2023; the latter grew from 190 to 381 in the same two-year period.

The largest sum of the overall spending was allocated on well drilling, construction, and installations. Operators spent £200 million (approximately $250 million) buying technology from suppliers, and £60 million (approximately $75 million) for research and development.

Both figures indicate a rise compared to the previous year, when £156 million (approximately $210 million) and £49 million (approximately $62 million) were invested, respectively. The growing adoption of low-carbon power as well as energy efficiency technologies reduce carbon emissions.

The NSTA highlights the deployment of monitoring equipment by aerial drones and autonomous underwater vehicles as the largest place for innovation. Also, there has been significant growth in the areas of installations and topsides, as well as reservoir and well management. 

According to NSTA, operators support net zero by focusing on emission reduction and low-carbon power technologies. A specific example would be Forward-Looking IfraRed cameras for methane emission measurement, a flare gas recovery technology to reduce hydrocarbon waste, to support offshore asset interactions.

“The North Sea is full of opportunities related to hydrocarbons and net zero, but at the same time can be a difficult place to work. Operators must focus on finding solutions to many challenging problems. Their innovative approach is clear in the continuing development and use of the new technologies highlighted in this report,” said Ernie Lamza, NSTA Technology Manager.

“World-leading technologies, skills and experience boost production and support the energy transition, placing UKCS workers and companies in a great position to secure work and deliver products and services in the UK and in other producing regions around the world.” 

As part of the NSTA’s duties is to monitor the companies’ compliance with regulatory requirements and issue a fine for identified breaches and failures, the UK regulator hit Repsol North Sea Limited with the highest fine issued to date on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) for emitting greenhouse gases from three fields into the atmosphere without permission.

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