Speciation of VOC emissions related to offshore North Sea oil and gas production

The North Sea is Europe's key oil and gas (O&G) basin with the output currently meeting 3 %–4 % of global oil supply. Despite this, there are few observational constraints on the nature of atmospheric emissions from this region, with most information derived from bottom-up inventory estimates. This study reports on airborne measurements of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from O&G-producing regions in the North Sea. VOC source emission signatures for the primary extraction products from offshore fields (oil, gas, condensate, mixed) were determined in four geographic regions. Measured iso-pentane to n-pentane (iC5 / nC5) ratios were 0.89–1.24 for all regions, used as a confirmatory indicator of O&G activities. Light alkanes (ethane, propane, butane, pentane) were the dominant species emitted in all four regions; however, total OH reactivity was dominated by unsaturated species, such as 1,3-butadiene, despite their relatively low abundance. Benzene to toluene ratios indicated the influence of possible terrestrial combustion sources of emissions in the southern, gas-producing region of the North Sea, seen only during south or south-westerly wind episodes. However, all other regions showed a characteristic signature of O&G operations. Correlations between ethane (C2H6) and methane (CH4) confirmed O&G production to be the primary CH4 source. The enhancement ratio (ΔC2H6/ΔCH4) ranged between 0.03–0.18, indicating a spatial dependence on emissions with both wet and dry CH4 emission sources. The excess mole fraction demonstrated that deepwater oil extraction resulted in a greater proportion of emissions of higher carbon number alkanes relative to CH4, whereas gas extraction, typically from shallow waters, resulted in a less complex mix of emissions dominated by CH4. The VOC source profiles measured were similar to those in the UK National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (NAEI) for oil production, with consistency between the molar ratios of light alkanes to propane. The largest discrepancies between observations and the inventory were for mono-aromatic compounds, highlighting that these species are not currently fully captured in the inventory. These results demonstrate the applicability of VOC measurements to distinguish unique sources within the O&G sector and give an overview of VOC speciation over the North Sea.


Publication status:
Authors: Wilde, Shona E., Dominutti, Pamela A., Andrews, Stephen J., Bauguitte, Stephane J.-B., Burton, Ralph R., Colfescu, Ioana, France, James ORCIDORCID record for James France, Hopkins, James R., Jones, Anna E. ORCIDORCID record for Anna E. Jones, Lachlan-Cope, Thomas ORCIDORCID record for Thomas Lachlan-Cope, Lee, James D., Lewis, Alastair C., Mobbs, Stephen, Weiss, Alexandra, Young, Stuart, Purvis, Ruth M.

On this site: Anna Jones, Alexandra Weiss, James France, Thomas Lachlan-Cope
12 March, 2021
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics / 21
22pp / 3741-3762
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