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Reducing emissions to the air

person by Kristin Øye Gjerde, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
ConocoPhillips decided in August 2005 to install recovery plants for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) at facilities related to the Norwegian and British continental shelves.
— Printed in Nordsjø-Pionér August, 2005.
© Norsk Oljemuseum

One function of such plants was to reduce harmful emissions to the air from crude oil shipments. The Randgrid tanker already had a unit, and the company had also started installing one at its Teesside pipeline terminal.

A VOC plant recovered the volatile components benzene, propane, butane and C5+ (ie, non-methane) condensates which would otherwise have escaped to the air from tank vents.

It captured these light gases from the piping during offshore loading, and passed them through charcoal filters before they were pumped back to the cargo.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Pionér, August 2005.

EU directives and Gothenburg protocol

The introduction of such environmental measures by ConocoPhillips and other oil companies was a consequence of Norway taking on commitments through international agreements.

Under its European Economic Area agreement with the EU, Norway is required to implement most of the directives originating from Brussels.

These include the directive of 11 March 1999 on limiting emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents (known as the VOC solvents directive).[REMOVE]Fotnote: Council directive 1999/13/EC of 11 March 1999 on the limitation of emissions of volatile organic compounds due to the use of organic solvents in certain activities and installations:

Norway also signed the international Gothenburg protocol on reducing VOC emissions in 1999. Signatories undertook to make extensive cuts up to 2010.

Entering into force on 17 May 2005, this agreement covered pollution which leads to acidification, eutrophication, and the formation of ground-level ozone and particles. It was ratified by most European countries and the USA.

Pursuant to the protocol, all EU countries – including Norway – were required to achieve an individual percentage reduction in VOCs by 2010.

Along with the UK, Norway topped the European figures for such emissions. Since these occurred when loading crude oil, they were particularly high on the Norwegian continental shelf.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Pionér, August 2005.

The overall amount of VOCs released by Norway more than doubled from 1980-95. Petroleum operations accounted for 55 per cent, and road traffic for another 19 per cent. So it was only natural that the oil industry took its share of the emission cuts.

Curbing VOCs is desirable because a number of them are carcinogenic. They also help to form photochemical oxidants, and particularly ground-level ozone.

Increased amounts of the latter can affect human health and damage forests, other vegetation and harvests. Ozone is also a potential greenhouse gas.

A revised Gothenburg protocol was adopted in May 2012. In addition to staying beneath their committed emission ceilings for 2010, the signatories accepted new obligations for 2020.[REMOVE]Fotnote:

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Published 16. September 2019   •   Updated 17. September 2019
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