EnergyWatch

Oil giant lets hundreds of barrels of oil equivalent end up in smoke day after day

To solve the issue with routine flaring at the Gorm field, TotalEnergies has explored numerous potential avenues, from establishing a new oil connection to merely waiting until the field stops producing. A decision on the matter has been postponed until next year, while a partial solution will be tested first.

Photo: Magnus Holm/Politiken/Ritzau Scanpix

Oil major TotalEnergies flares off 1.1 million cubic feet of natural gas at the Gorm field every day.

In more typical units of measurement, this corresponds to 210 barrels of oil equivalent, more than 31,000 cubic meters of gas – or more or less the annual gas consumption of an 18-family neighborhood.

The practice TotalEnergies uses is called routine flaring – which refers to the disposal of unwanted crudes fed to a tall flame on the platform.

The gas accompanies the oil extracted from the Halfdan field. It is exported and flared off at the Gorm field even though it could potentially have been used for on-site operations or been sold on the market where gas prices are at a record high.

The French oil company unveils the full extent of the routine flaring in a presentation submitted to the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) on Dec. 6 last year. Through access to public records, EnergyWatch has obtained the presentation, which comes in the wake of Monday's revelations that TotalEnergies employs the controversial practice in the Danish part of the North Sea.

In November, the DEA had notified the company that continuing to flare off gas at the Gorm field would be "inconsistent with the provisions in the established approvals pursuant to [the Danish Subsoil Act's, -ed.] section 10 and production establishment pursuant to section 15."

We're working to further develop the concept for a permanent re-routing solution and plan to carry out an offshore test in February as a partial solution.

Ole Hansen, Head of Development, Business & JV Management, Total Energies

Considered taking no action

The routine flaring is the result of the Gorm facility being unable to handle the gas in any other manner and has been used there since 2017, when an old compressor was permanently dismantled at the platform.

The following year, TotalEnergies come up with six possible solutions, according to the presentation. New methods of rerouting the gas were considered, as was a new oil pipeline that would connect the Halfdan field with the Dan field.

Another option was to not address the problem at all and wait until the Gorm field would one day be decommissioned.

TotalEnergies hasn't published the Gorm field's expected end date. Its license to extract oil and gas from the site expires in 2042.

Total Energies har tidligere præsenteret Energistyrelsen for seks forskellige muligheder til at håndtere rutineflaring på Gorm-feltet. Den første indebærer at vente med at gøre noget indtil såkaldt COP (cease of production/produktionsophør).
Total Energies har tidligere præsenteret Energistyrelsen for seks forskellige muligheder til at håndtere rutineflaring på Gorm-feltet. Den første indebærer at vente med at gøre noget indtil såkaldt COP (cease of production/produktionsophør).

In 2019, however, the company opted to reroute the unwanted gas from Halfdan to the Dan field. And the plan was to implement the solution in Q3 2020.

"Rerouting had the potential to reduce flaring and commercialize 1.1 MMSCFD [million standard cubic feet per day, -ed] (210 BOEPD) from Gorm and reduce Gorm's complexity considerably," writes TotalEnergies in the presentation submitted to the DEA.

Sometime later, the solution was dropped, however, and the project halted. One of the reasons was that the new design would "reduce production efficiency resulting in an additional loss of production," states TotalEnergies. For the time being, the company has postponed deciding on a solution until 2023.

The French oil giant informed the DEA that it is still examining and optimizing various concepts and that a decision will be made for an optimal routing by the end of Q1 2021.

Testing partial solution next month

EnergyWatch has unsuccessfully requested an interview with TotalEnergies but has instead received a written response.

Head of Development, Business & JV Management, Ole Hansen, notes that the efforts to find a permanent solution to the flaring problem has "proven more extensive and time-consuming than expected."

"We're working to further develop the concept for a permanent re-routing solution and plan to carry out an offshore test in February as a partial solution," he writes.

However, this partial solution is estimated to merely half the amount of gas that TotalEnergies is currently flaring off in the North Sea – if successful, that is.

TotalEnergies has proposed a meeting with the DEA at the end of February to assess the outcome of the test.

Major source of emissions

According to TotalEnergies, routine flaring from Gorm makes up 30 percent of the total flaring by the main domestic player in oil and gas production, Danish Underground Consortium (DUC), under which the French company operates.

The remaining 70 percent consists of safety flaring, which is used to avoid pressure overload on the platforms.

Since 2016, the Gorm field has been responsible for the most flaring of gas by a wide margin in the Danish part of the North Sea.

Based on the DEA's figures, EnergyWatch has calculated 162,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually from flaring in Denmark from 2017 to 2020, from which the most recent data stems. This period covers the initial years of flaring of surplus gas at the Gorm field.

The World Bank has launched a global initiative to elimate routine flaring by 2030, stating that flaring results in "significant amounts" of methane emissions because flaring doesn't burn all of the emitted gas.

Methane is 25 times more potent than CO2, as a result of which routine flaring comes with a much higher climate impact.

Naturally, it's unacceptable to flare off natural gas unless it's an absolutely necessary safety measure. And the government will now look into what can be done to eliminate the problem

Dan Jørgensen, Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities

Supporting parties seek a ban

In the wake of EnergyWatch's revelations, Minister of Climate, Energy and Utilities Dan Jørgensen of the Social Democrats made it clear that the government aims to find a solution to the use of routine flaring in Denmark.

"Naturally, it's unacceptable to flare off natural gas unless it's an absolutely necessary safety measure. And the government will now look into what can be done to eliminate the problem," the minister states.

The green political party The Alternative summoned the climate minister for consultations, with supporting parties along with the Alternative and Independent Greens calling for a ban against routine flaring, taking a cue from Norway. Opposition parties like the Liberal Party and Danish People's Party are also open to a ban.

The DEA tells EnergyWatch that TotalEnergies' practice of flaring at the Gorm field is legal due to the fact that there are no rules against such a practice in Denmark.

Outcry against routine North Sea flaring has Danish climate minister vowing action

TotalEnergies intentionally flares off large quantities of oil in Danish part of North Sea

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