OEUK panel outlines North Sea energy transition priorities

Feb. 18, 2022
Neptune Energy is investigating a future new role for its Cygnus gas production complex in the southern North Sea as an energy hub.

Offshore staff

ABERDEEN, UKNeptune Energy is investigating a future new role for its Cygnus gas production complex in the southern North Sea as an energy hub.

Cygnus could form part of the company’s proposed DelphHYnus development, a CO2 transport and storage solution for the South Humber industrial area close to England’s Lincolnshire coast. This would be combined with a new 1.8-MW blue (lower-carbon) hydrogen production plant at the site of the former Theddlethorpe terminal, which received gas from numerous fields in the UK southern North Sea.

The company remains committed to the project, despite failing to secure Track 1 funding last year via the UK government’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) process.

Cygnus is one of the UK’s largest offshore gas-producing fields. Neptune’s UK managing director Alexandra Thomas, speaking at an event in Aberdeen last week to launch Offshore Energies UK, the new name for the former Oil & Gas UK trade association, said her company was monitoring growing interest for green and blue hydrogen production in the North Sea area.

Assuming the planned DelpHYnus hydrogen scheme eventually goes ahead, Cygnus’ offshore infrastructure could at some point be repurposed for delivering gas for blue hydrogen production onshore, for use by the freight, transportation, and other sectors. The CO2 released by the blue hydrogen could then be sequestered in a nearby offshore reservoir.

At the same time, Neptune is investigating what would be needed to electrify the Cygnus platform complex, with electrification also being a facilitator of green hydrogen, which could be produced offshore using power generated from offshore wind turbines.

Britain’s Oil & Gas Authority has been pressing UK offshore operators to invest in electrification schemes that would cut the sector’s emissions, in order to justify the sector’s continued license to operate. James Bream, CEO of Katoni Engineering, said there were groups of production assets in the UK central North Sea where electrification is technically feasible, although this is not realistic in all cases.

“We can get this done,” he said, adding that in any case, “it is not an option.”

Another topic discussed during the presentation was the need to develop the skills needed for the UK to sustain growth in offshore renewable energy. Sian Lloyd Rees, UK managing director of Aker Offshore Wind, said her company had been recruiting skilled staff formerly employed by the Armed Forces for a variety of roles, including training and accounting.    

Arne Gürtner, senior vice president, Exploration and Production International, UK and Ireland for Equinor – speaking from the Mariner platform in the East Shetland basin – said that some logistics and operations/maintenance personnel on the platform were transitioning to perform similar roles on the company’s Dogger Bank wind farms in the North Sea.

“The oil and gas sector has very transferable skills, which include risk management.” For the HDVC cable with offshore transformer that will be included as part of Dogger Bank, he pointed out, the engineering expertise came from the oil and gas sector.

John Underhill, Professor of Geoscience & Energy Transition at Heriot-Watt University, said the offshore industry’s continued image problem was in part down to ignorance of the pace at which net zero emission targets can be achieved.

The North Sea area is undergoing a transition, but it is “not a cliff-edge change,” he stressed, adding that oil and gas would continue to be needed for the energy mix through 2050 and beyond.

During the early days of UK North Sea production in the 1970s, which coincided with the imposition of a three-day week across Britain due to energy shortages, the geologists and engineers opening up the North Sea were seen as heroes, Underhill noted.

In more recent times they have plunged to zero, he added, although following this winter’s problems with global gas supplies, there has been greater awareness of the relevance of the UK offshore industry and its contribution to the UK’s security of supply, he suggested.

Deirdre Michie, CEO of Offshore Energies UK, chipped in that the industry had been heroic during the early days of Covid in keeping the UK’s offshore production going.

Underhill called for greater efforts to persuade young people that careers in the energy sector are attractive. This means sending industry representatives to schools and colleges to explain that oil and gas is not seen solely as polluting and a greenhouse gas emitter, but rather an activity that has a huge role to play in helping society sustain its future goals.