The North Sea oil and gas sector has been told to end controversial routine flaring in just two years’ time in a stark report demanding that the industry accelerates action to cut its climate impact.

The review by Tory MP Chris Skidmore, commissioned by the UK Government, calls on the industry to electrify its operations after failing to commit to statutory adviser, the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC), target of reducing emissions by 68 per cent by 2030.

Instead, the industry has pledged to reduce emissions by just 50 per cent by the end of the decade.

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Flaring takes place when companies burn off the gas that comes out of the ground while drilling for oil.

The practice can take place for safety reasons. But fossil fuels companies also use flaring to save money. If companies are drawing off only small amounts of gas, it is often not seen as worthwhile to spend money on collecting it and transporting it.

When this happens, the gas is burnt off simply to get rid of it, known as “routine flaring”.

In Mr Skidmore’s review, he has called for the oil and gas sector to “accelerate the end to routine flaring from 2030 to 2025”.

Norway has banned non-emergency flaring on the Norwegian Continental Shelf in the North Sea for more than 50 years.

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Last month, The Herald revealed analysis by the Green Alliance think-tank that leakage and gas venting and flaring wastes enough energy to supply more than 760,000 homes a year.

Around 70% of emissions from North Sea oil and gas production come from powering platforms by either natural gas or diesel, with the next largest cause being flaring at 22%.

The CCC has called for a 68% reduction in oil and gas emissions by 2030 from 2018 levels, but a 50% target was agreed by the industry and the UK Government.

Mr Skidmore said “the easiest way to achieve these emissions reductions” is by “reducing supply”. But he warned that “forcing this in the short term to present risks for our energy security”.

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Turning to electrification of oil and gas infrastructure, Mr Skidmore has pointed to warnings from the industry that “the regulatory regime for platform electrification is currently too complex” adding that developers requiring different approvals from different regulators is “slowing down deployment and making it hard to get electrification off the ground”.

Mr Skidmore has also acknowledged that “access to grid connections is a huge challenge for the sector”.

Freya Aitchison, Friends of the Earth Scotland’s oil and gas campaigner, said: “Flaring from oil platforms is a major problem for the climate and UK fields have previously found to be the most polluting of the countries operating in the North Sea.

“Norway introduced a ban on non-emergency flaring 50 years ago, so it is high time the industry in the UK was forced to finally follow suit.

“The irony should not be lost on anyone that as the fossil fuel industry is forced to electrify platforms, the UK Government are also pushing to drill every last drop of oil and gas.

“We must not forget that cutting emissions from producing oil and gas is a drop in the ocean compared to the pollution from actually burning the final oil and gas.”

Mark Ruskell, the Scottish Greens’ climate spokesman, said “The sooner action is taken to put an end to flaring the better”.

HeraldScotland: Mark RuskellMark Ruskell (Image: PA)

He added: “Flaring is hugely wasteful, terrible for the environment, and can be massively disruptive to the day-to-day lives and health of local communities.

“It should only ever be a last resort, but today it’s a regular occurrence.”

The industry body, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK), was asked to comment on the proposals to end flaring and electrify infrastructure.

In a statement, Mike Tholen, OEUK’s sustainability and policy director, said: “The offshore energies sector is excited by this review’s ambition to build UK economic policy upon the transition to net zero and become a world leader.

“Offshore Energies UK and our members are already working with government to seize these opportunities for the UK through the North Sea Transition Deal and its targets agreed with government.

“If we get this right, we can build a new generation of businesses and jobs and unlock growth across the nation. OEUK fully supports the review’s objective for a stable environment for offshore energy businesses to plan and invest.

The statement added: “A stable, fair, globally competitive policy and taxation springboard will be key to delivering the transition.

"The expertise and resources of companies currently producing our homegrown energy security, from conventional sources such oil and gas, are critical to today’s economy and its future success.”