Where Does the UK Get its Gas From?

The Eco Experts
Floating oil rigs UK

The ongoing energy crisis has had many concerned about the UK’s gas supplies, and wondering where exactly this country gets its gas from.

We currently import around half of all the gas we use, with the other half coming from sources in the UK.

But where do we import gas from, and what are our local gas sources? We’re answering all of that here, as well as investigating what our gas imports might look like in the future and estimating roughly when the UK won’t need to use gas anymore.

How much gas does the UK use?

The UK has used an average of around 78 billion cubic feet of gas per year since 2011. This is a drop in the average amount of gas consumed from 2001–2010, which was around 96 billion cubic feet each year.

Where does the UK get its gas?

For decades, the bulk of UK gas has come from the North Sea – but these supplies have started to wane. In fact, some believe that the North Sea’s gas supply could all but dry up by 2030. When you consider that North Sea gas output is a third of what it was in 2000, this prediction doesn’t seem outlandish.

So where does the rest of the UK’s gas come from? Around one-third of it is imported via pipelines from Norway, which holds the most gas of any European country (66 trillion cubic feet of gas – around 1-2% of all the proven gas reserves in the world).

Other imports come from the Netherlands, Belgium, and Russia, again via long-distance pipelines.

The rest usually comes in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from countries such as Qatar and the US. Fun fact – LNG has to be kept below -160°C and the ships that transport it are specially modified.

Here’s a breakdown of exactly where the UK gets its gas from:

Where does the UK get its oil from?

The overwhelming majority of oil imported to the UK comes from Norway, which supplies us with roughly 11.7 million metric tons of crude oil a year. The second largest supplier of crude oil to the UK is the US, which actually provided more oil than Norway in 2019.

That year, one in every four barrels of crude oil imported to the UK came from the States, highlighting our growing reliance on oil imports. The reason for the increased imports in recent years is that the amount of oil drilled in the North Sea isn’t enough to match the UK’s annual consumption – at least if the UK were to rely on North Sea oil exclusively.

We currently consume around 578,000,000 barrels of oil per year. The North Sea has proven oil reserves of 2,754,685,000 barrels, meaning we would eat through its reserves in around five years if we relied solely on them!

To make sure this doesn’t happen, the UK has to rely on the aforementioned imports. They’re not just from Norway and the US, though. We also import from countries such as Saudi Arabia – though we only import about 3% of our oil from there.

Outdoor Gas pipeline

Will the UK stop drilling in the North Sea?

The UK continues to drill in the North Sea, but it has been meeting some resistance. Environmental groups such as Greenpeace have long sought to stop the UK issuing ‘exploratory licences', which basically give permission to companies to drill in new locations for either gas or oil (or both).

In 2021, the UK won a court challenge by Greenpeace, which argued that further drilling in the North Sea would undermine UK commitments to phasing out fossil fuels. Those in favour of further drilling said that not doing so would risk an increase in oil and gas imports.

It's definitely a tricky balance to strike, because the reality is that the UK is not yet ready to make the full transition away from gas and oil. But equally, the environmental need to move away from fossil fuels is becoming more pressing with each day.

The judge involved in the case stated that because the UK economy is still so reliant on gas and oil, Greenpeace's challenge was political, not legal.

Where will the UK get its gas from in the future?

Questions about the future of gas in the UK aren’t so much about where it will come from – they’re more about what we’ll do with gas. Regardless of how it’s spun, gas is still a source of carbon emissions. So if the UK is to truly reach its net-zero ambitions, gas either has to go or we must find a way to remove emissions entirely.

There are already some potential solutions out there, including something called carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) – also known as carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). This involves the extraction of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced in the exhaust streams of power stations.

The CO2 is then stored or used for a different purpose, which can be related to:

  • Concrete – CO2 can be used in place of water to ‘cure’ concrete. The obvious benefit is that you don’t have to use the vast quantities of water required to mix concrete. You can also use CO2 to replace cement entirely, using a process called CO2 mineralisation.
  • Liquid fuels – Using energy, you can pry the carbon away from CO2, leaving only oxygen. The carbon can then be stuck onto hydrogen, creating ‘hydrocarbons’, which in turn can be used to create fuels such as petrol and jet fuel. The key benefit here is that you’re removing crude oil from the process, thus cleaning up the production of petrol and other fuels significantly (but how clean these fuels are is still debated).
  • Algae cultivation – CO2 is the perfect fuel for cultivating algae, which itself is a fantastic natural absorber of CO2. In fact, algae is one of, if not the best, biomass at absorbing CO2, much better than trees. This is because it grows a lot quicker than trees, which makes algae a key tool in the fight against carbon emissions.There are already some fascinating initiatives to use algae as compact CO2 absorbers.
  • Reducing emissions from oil – A technique known as ‘enhanced oil recovery’ (EOR) involves injecting stored CO2 into existing oil and gas reservoirs. By doing this, it’s possible to squeeze out more hydrocarbons from these reservoirs (petrol, gas, and other fuels).There is some controversy surrounding EOR, with environmental groups expressing concern for its impact on groundwater. These groups also worry that EOR will encourage further drilling for oil and gas, which in the face of a climate crisis is untenable for many.

 

When will the UK stop needing gas?

The UK is currently reliant on gas for much of its electricity generation and for the heating of homes. As of 2021, gas was responsible for around half of all the electricity generated in the UK, but to clear this was a result of lower-than-average wind speeds and unplanned maintenance at nuclear power plants.

There are also 22 million UK households with gas-powered boilers. It’s estimated that by 2028, the UK will need to replace roughly 600,000 boilers each year if it’s to reach net zero by 2050.

Projections for future UK gas usage are quite interesting, as it seems that demand will remain roughly the same for another 20 years or so, but production will decline. This suggests the UK will increase its gas imports to meet demand, which in the face of global gas price increases seems counterintuitive.

Also, if the UK commits to its total ban on gas boiler sales by 2035, demand for gas will inevitably decline. And the gradual electrification of homes as they switch to heat pumps, electric boilers, and infrared heating panels will have a similar effect on gas demand.

Where does the UK export gas?

It’s important to remember that the UK doesn’t actually own its gas supplies – rather, privately owned corporations such as British Gas control the gas and are allowed to export it to whomever they please.

This has happened for many years now, but it was the exports in 2021 that caused some controversy. In 2021, it was revealed in government statistics that the UK had exported 31,975 gigawatt hours’ worth of gas to Belgium and the Netherlands.

In light of the ongoing energy crisis, this exporting came as a surprise to many, especially when compared to figures from 2018 and 2019 (16,439 and 19,633 GWh, respectively). Many argued that the exports were a slap in the face to households already struggling to pay for skyrocketing energy prices while also anticipating the energy price cap rise coming into effect April 1st.

Did You Know?

A single gigawatt hour (or, one million kilowatt hours) is enough to power roughly one million UK households for an hour.

Summary

Right now, it’s an inescapable fact that the UK still relies heavily on gas, and this is unlikely to change any time soon. We simply do not have the technology and infrastructure needed to eliminate it from our energy chain, and still need gas in order to generate electricity and heat the 22 million UK households that currently use it.

In the coming decades, the UK government needs to commit to limiting and eventually stopping our reliance on gas – or finding a solution in which gas is used, but its emissions are captured entirely.

Tom Gill Writer

Tom is a big fan of all things eco and has a passionate interest in how technology and localised projects can work together to make the world greener.

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