It probably doesn't cross your mind much. Even though you use it to heat your home and cook your food, you likely haven't considered where your gas mains supply comes from. But with the UK using 67 billion cubic metres of gas in 2015 alone, you have to wonder where we're getting it all from!
It's not all from UK shores either — let's take a look at where exactly we're supplied from for our basic needs.
Britain's demand for gas
But why does the UK need this level of gas supplying to it? As of May 2015, British Gas established that 80 per cent of the 25 million homes found across the UK were being by gas. On top of this, it was estimated that about a quarter of electricity used throughout the nation was in fact being generated by gas-fired power stations.
Britain's gas supplies
From data revealed by British Gas, 45% of the UK's gas supply comes from the North Sea and East Irish Sea. Energy UK has put this figure closer at 40 per cent, but the organisation was keen to add that production at these fields is in decline.
Foreign gas supplies
Further afield, Europe and Norway supply the UK with 38% of its demand, and the rest of the world contributes towards 17% of demand via Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) delivered via tankers. So, which nations is this gas arriving from? The Office for National Statistics has shed light on this using research from 2015, stating that 61 per cent of gas was imported to the UK from Norway that year, 29 per cent from Qatar (purely in the form of LNG) and seven per cent from the Netherlands. The remainder was marginally delivered from a variety of countries across the globe, including Belgium, Algeria and Trinidad and Tobago.
Transporting gas from abroad
Beyond tankers transporting LNG, how is the rest of the nation's gas get transported? The answer is through four pipelines which run from the European continent to the British mainland:
1. The Langeled pipeline — measuring in at 1,200km long, this pipeline runs from Nyhamna in Norway to Easington in Yorkshire and has an import capacity of 26.3 billion cubic metres a year.
2. The UK-Belgium interconnector (IUK) — the only bi-directional pipeline of the four listed (in that it can import gas to Britain as well as export gas to mainland Europe), this pipeline runs from Zeebrugge in Belgium to Bacton in Norfolk and has an import capacity of 25.5 billion cubic metres a year.
3. The UK-Netherlands pipeline (BBL) — this pipeline runs from Balgzand in the Netherlands to Bacton in Norfolk and has an import capacity of 14.2 billion cubic metres a year.
4. The Vesterled pipeline — this pipeline runs from a series of gas fields in Norway to St Fergus in Scotland and has an import capacity of 14.2 billion cubic metres a year.
How the UK stores gas
Naturally, we don't use up the transported gas all in one sitting. Instead, gas is sent to storage facilities until people and organisations require them. National gas is mainly stored either in depleted gas fields — of which Rough is the largest in the UK and operated by Centrica Storage — or salt caverns once they are of the right shape and size to store gas.
There are three facilities for imported LNG:
• Dragon at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.
• The Isle of Grain in Kent.
• South Hook in Pembrokeshire.
A cause for concern?
Do we rely too much on imported gas sources? This question was certainly raised over the summer when Qatar — of which almost a third of the UK's gas imports currently comes from — had its transport links severed by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries as a result of Doha's alleged funding of extremist groups.
Swiss bank analyst Julius Baer commented during the Qatar crisis in June that “disruptions, especially of the seaborne shipments, are highly unlikely”. Consultancy Pira Energy's head of gas analytics Ira Joseph also commented: “The UK market is the destination of last resort for Qatari LNG, so it would be the last and not the first place to have an impact.”
Chief executive of the United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group, Kev Cronin, noted that: “It's important for us to insulate. Maybe not so much for now, because we have the North Sea and Norway, but by 2030-35 we are going to be importing 70-80 per cent of our gas, and the majority of that is going to come from the LNG market if we haven't started the shale gas industry.”
In the years to come, our demand for gas will only rise, as will our dependence on gas imports.
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