North Sea methane leak caused by oil industry blow-out

The leak was caused by a major blow-out during an oil drilling operation 30 years ago, and is still emitting methane. “Like many places across the North Sea, climate-destroying methane has been leaking here for decades, yet the oil and gas industry, instead of closing the leak and monitoring it, continues to drill holes in the seabed, while decision-makers turn a blind eye.” said Dr Sandra Schöttner from Greenpeace. In 1990, the Swedish Stena Drilling Company, on behalf of Mobil North Sea (now Exxon Mobil), accidentally tapped a gas pocket with the drilling platform High Seas Driller while searching for oil, causing a blow-out that resulted in several craters on the seabed.

An international team of scientists had previously been to this site and estimated in 2015 that up to 90 litres of methane per second were being released. The leaking borehole has been returned by Exxon Mobil to the British state, which in 2000 determined that further monitoring was not required, believing that the reservoir would soon be depleted. But 30 years later the greenhouse gas keeps escaping into the atmosphere. According to a recent independent study, an estimated total of 8,000–30,000 tonnes of methane per year escape from gas leaks from more than 15,000 boreholes in the North Sea – adding to the 72,000 tonnes of methane that normal operations of platforms in the North Sea release every year.

In this issue


The clock is ticking to achieve the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. To be clear right from the start: this goal deserves every effort that mankind can pull off. In the name of realism, this is the goal we must focus on now, given the current level of progress in reducing greenhouse gases. However, damage to marine ecosystems will not be avoided even if we reach this goal1. In fact, damage already occurs at current levels of warming, as evidenced by the bleaching of coral reefs2. This may be an inconvenient truth when our current goal is 1.5°C.

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