Journal: Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP), vol. 22, 4303–4322, 2022
The oil and gas (O&G) sector is a significant source of methane (CH4) emissions. Quantifying these emissions remains challenging, with many studies highlighting discrepancies between measurements and inventory-based estimates. In this study, we present CH4 emission fluxes from 21 offshore O&G facilities collected in 10 O&G fields over two regions of the Norwegian continental shelf in 2019. Emissions of CH4 derived from measurements during 13 aircraft surveys were found to range from 2.6 to 1200 t yr−1 (with a mean of 211 t yr−1 across all 21 facilities). Comparing this with aggregated operator-reported facility emissions for 2019, we found excellent agreement (within 1σ uncertainty), with mean aircraft-measured fluxes only 16 % lower than those reported by operators. We also compared aircraft-derived fluxes with facility fluxes extracted from a global gridded fossil fuel CH4 emission inventory compiled for 2016. We found that the measured emissions were 42 % larger than the inventory for the area covered by this study, for the 21 facilities surveyed (in aggregate). We interpret this large discrepancy not to reflect a systematic error in the operator-reported emissions, which agree with measurements, but rather the representativity of the global inventory due to the methodology used to construct it and the fact that the inventory was compiled for 2016 (and thus not representative of emissions in 2019). This highlights the need for timely and up-to-date inventories for use in research and policy. The variable nature of CH4 emissions from individual facilities requires knowledge of facility operational status during measurements for data to be useful in prioritising targeted emission mitigation solutions. Future surveys of individual facilities would benefit from knowledge of facility operational status over time. Field-specific aggregated emissions (and uncertainty statistics), as presented here for the Norwegian Sea, can be meaningfully estimated from intensive aircraft surveys. However, field-specific estimates cannot be reliably extrapolated to other production fields without their own tailored surveys, which would need to capture a range of facility designs, oil and gas production volumes, and facility ages. For year-on-year comparison to annually updated inventories and regulatory emission reporting, analogous annual surveys would be needed for meaningful top-down validation. In summary, this study demonstrates the importance and accuracy of detailed, facility-level emission accounting and reporting by operators and the use of airborne measurement approaches to validate bottom-up accounting.