THE regulator of the UK’s oil and gas companies has said that they need to take action to set themselves on a path to reducing emissions and warned it could block developments if they did not take reasonable steps.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said that a plan it published on Wednesday highlights “the need for action across the board on production decarbonisation”.

It said that it would work with oil and gas developers, but if they did not take steps it thought necessary it might not approve their applications.

It comes after a committee of MSPs asked the Scottish government for “clarity” over the future of the Just Transition Fund, set up to help the north east refocus its economy on greener alternatives to oil and gas, after its annual funding was cut by 75%.

Despite falls in recent years, the production of oil and gas in the UK contributes around 3% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. That is not taking into account the emissions produced when that oil and gas is burnt.

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This comes partly from the energy that oil rigs and other operations use to transport staff and equipment, pump up oil and much else beside.

But it also comes from practices such as venting or flaring – the process of either releasing unwanted gas into the atmosphere, or burning it on site without utilising the energy that it could produce.

Part of the mission would be to reduce venting and flaring, the latter is especially harmful because it releases methane into the atmosphere, which is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

But another way of decarbonising production is to start running oil rigs and other parts of the sector on green electricity.

This could, in the best case, save around one to two million tonnes of carbon in 2030 alone. That is the same as taking around one million cars off the road. By 2050, electrification could have saved a total of 22 million tonnes.

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The authority warned companies that it might withhold its approval from projects if they are not electrified where it thinks they should be.

“The plan places electrification and low carbon power at the heart of emissions reduction and makes it clear that where the NSTA considers electrification reasonable, but it has not been done, there should be no expectation that the NSTA will approve field development plans and similar decisions that give access to future hydrocarbon resources on that asset,” it said.

The NSTA said that it would “apply the plan in a reasonable manner” and would avoid any unintended consequences.

NSTA chief executive Stuart Payne said: “Energy production, reducing emissions and accelerating the energy transition are at the heart of everything we do.

“The plan strikes the right balance in supporting industry in its work producing the oil and gas which we need and will continue to need in the coming decades, while at the same time playing its role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“The plan will help to secure the crucial part the North Sea will play in meeting the UK’s energy needs and provide reassurance that the industry can and does place a very high value in cleaning up production and cutting emissions.”