Four of the UK continental shelf's biggest operators — Shell, BP, Harbour Energy and TotalEnergies — have confirmed they are collaborating on a project that could lead to the electrification of a number of oil and gas production hubs in the central North Sea.

The news comes as the UK's North Sea upstream regulator, the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), said it is satisfied with the early progress operators have made so far on exploring how to convert their platforms to use low-carbon electricity instead of higher-emitting gas-fired or diesel generators.

The OGA is stepping up pressure on industry to decide within the coming months which concepts will be taken forward into early engineering in 2022, with a view to having at least two projects up and running by 2027.

'High-level study'

The schemes will be crucial if the sector is to reach targets it committed to in the recently agreed North Sea Transition Deal between industry and government to reduce operational carbon dioxide emissions by 10% by 2025, by 25% by 2027 and by 50% by 2030.

A joint statement from the four companies said: “‘Shell, BP, Harbour Energy and TotalEnergies are collaborating in the early stages of a high-level study project to explore the electrification of some of their assets.

“Cost-effective electrification of existing [central North Sea] oil and gas offshore assets could significantly reduce CO2 emissions."

They added that the scope of the project "is still under development, and no decisions have been made".

The operators have not yet revealed details about the work they are doing but it is understood to be focused on the Central Graben Area of the central North Sea, home to well-known production hubs that include the BP-operated ETAP, Shell-operated Shearwater, TotalEnergies-operated Elgin-Franklin, and Harbour’s Britannia and J-Block facilities.

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More operators — understood to include CNOOC Petroleum Europe — are also carrying out studies in the Outer Moray Firth area of the central North Sea, while others — including BP and Equinor — are understood to be looking at schemes in the West of Shetland area.

'Pleased with commitment'

OGA central North Sea area manager Andy Brooks told Upstream: “We are pleased with the commitment we are seeing from industry on platform electrification across the UKCS."

Brooks added that the regulator "continues to drive industry with a view to securing concepts later this year, which is a vital step towards having at least two projects in place by 2027".

As well as the work by operators, government and regulators have been looking at ways to smooth out any potential regulatory blocks that might hinder getting the schemes off the ground.

The UK oil and gas industry currently produces about 14.5 million tonnes per annum of operational CO2 emissions — about 3% of the UK economy’s total output.

Gas-fired and diesel-powered generation accounts for about three quarters of those emissions.

Some high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) power-from-shore systems have been developed to run platforms offshore Norway — notably at Equinor’s giant Johan Sverdrup development and BP’s Valhall facilities — but a similar scheme has not yet been achieved offshore the UK.

Government said previously that delivering the 50% emission reduction target by 2030 is estimated to cost between £2 billion ($2.9 billion) and £3 billion of investment.

Upstream first reported exclusively in autumn 2019 that Shell, BP and TotalEnergies — recently renamed from Total — were carrying out studies but the joint work remained unconfirmed.

Government said previously that step-change options under consideration include the full or partial electrification of offshore assets by connecting them to onshore power networks in the UK or Norway, potentially also including linking to offshore renewables and the creation of integrated energy hubs.