UK clears plan to reopen Rough gas storage facility
UK offshore regulator North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) has approved Centrica's submission to reopen the Rough gas storage off the coast of eastern England in the southern North Sea.
Rough is a mothballed 100-bn ft3 capacity gas storage site, formed from a depleted gas field off the coast of Yorkshire. It was closed in 2019 as Centrica was unable to justify footing the bill to renovate its infrastructure, which had lasted beyond its original design life, and the then government refused to provide subsidies.
Centrica now has all necessary regulatory sanctions to proceed with development, NSTA said on August 30. Having secured an exemption from third party access requirements for Rough on August 3, Centrica said previously it could relaunch the facility by early September.
Rough's reopening has been a thorny issue for regulators who have had to weigh technical barriers and safety concerns against the UK's need for gas storage. Despite possessing significant upstream gas output, the UK lags its European peers in this area. Rough had once accounted for 70% of the UK's total storage capacity. Its production reservoirs comprise of porous rock surrounded by non-porous formations, allowing gas injection at significant pressure, according to Watt-Logic.
Rough comprises two offshore production platforms at the former gas field, connected to a gas processing terminal in Easington, England. In an earlier proposal to revive the project, Centrica CEO Greg McKenna told local media it could cost £1.6bn ($1.9bn) to complete the renovations, money "no-one" was likely to spend without "some guaranteed return". McKenna urged Whitehall to back the proposal, perhaps using some form of regulated funding support, though he has also said this need not involve government money.
Centrica's programme envisages up to 28bn ft3 of gas injection into Rough this winter, with capacity rising to 59bn ft3 next year, according to an Ofgem bulletin published August 3. Observers have expressed doubts over the feasibility of this plan.
They argue Centrica would have to fix well barrier problems and bottlenecks at Rough, which led to it closing in the first place. The director of Watt-Logic, Kathryn Porter, has written in a blog post that the UK Competition & Market Authority's original analysis concluded Rough's existing wells would need replaced with new ones, due to "unpredictable age-related failures" that would present an "unacceptable health and safety risk."
Rough's closure left the UK with practically no gas storage capacity, whereas most large gas markets in Europe typically have enough capacity to cover a fourth of annual consumption.