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Research Study: “The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets”, UK’s Committee on Climate Change, 2016

This report is by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), an independent statutory body that was set up in accordance with the Climate Change Act of 2008. It was established in order to advise the UK Government and its Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.

The study, whose findings were presented to parliament in March, 2016 looked at the compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets. The carbon budgets help to put a limit on the amount of carbon emissions that can be produced in the UK within a five-year period. The CCC report mainly focused on shale gas rather than onshore petroleum. According to the CCC, onshore petroleum exploitation scale could require putting up a dedicated regulatory body as well as putting in place a strong regulatory framework. They found that the exploitation of shale gas particularly by fracking, is not compatible with UK climate targets unless three tests were met.

The first test includes having well development, production, and emissions from decommissioning closely regulated. Without regulation, carbon emissions from the shale gas production could be substantial.

The second test is that gas consumption must remain in line with the carbon budget. The UK currently imports about half of its gas supplies, mainly via pipeline from Norway and through liquefied natural gas tankers (LNG). Carbon budgets can be met in various ways including balancing the emissions from fossils and using carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Generally, however, they require that persistent consumption of all fossil fuels without CCS decline overtime.

The third test is allowing for shale gas production emissions in the carbon budgets. This might cause an increase in these budgets. Production of shale gas domestically would lead to more emissions for the UK even if gas consumption is not affected and production related emissions are strictly limited through tight regulation and monitoring. However, according to the report the size of the additional emissions depends on the size of the industry, which is surrounded by huge uncertainty.

The government agreed with the findings of the CCC. They also stated that they would meet the three tests and that there would not be any need for further regulation as the regulation currently in place was sufficient. The government in their response also stated that they would call on the CCC to advise regarding this issue when need arises.

This study is important because it provides advice to parliament on exploitation of petroleum, a fossil fuel. As the UK currently imports the majority of its gas, ensuring energy security for the country is an important issue. However, because the UK has a strong stand against climate change and towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it would have to consider and understand the impacts that domestic production of petroleum would have on meeting its emissions targets. This report provides that guidance and enables the government to make informed decisions with regard to petroleum exploitation and reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. However, in light of the more ambitious Paris Agreement, it will be interesting to see if the UK’s future carbon budgets will be adjusted.

Learn More

See the ‘The compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets’, 2016 by UK’s Committee on Climate Change: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/CCC-Compatibility-of-onshore-petroleum-with-meeting-UK-carbon-budgets.pdf

Read more about the Committee on Climate Change: https://www.theccc.org.uk/about/

For more information on UK government’s position on petroleum and onshore exploitation see: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/535208/CCC_Response_new_template_FINAL.pdf


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