How North Sea Transition Authority is using open data to accelerate the transition to Net Zero

Mark Samuels Profile picture for user Mark Samuels March 5, 2024
Access to the right information is crucial to securing energy supplies.

An image of an oil and gas rig out at sea

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which licenses, regulates and influences the UK oil and gas, offshore hydrogen, and carbon storage industries, is opening access to data to help ensure the UK has a secure and sustainable approach to energy supplies.

The goal for NSTA - and the industry more generally - is to ensure security of supply for UK energy, while reducing emissions and accelerating the energy transition to Net Zero, according to Nic Granger, NSTA Director of Corporate: 

Those are our three priorities as an organization. The challenge for us is how we help and enable the industry to do that. Our use of data is a fantastic way to enable all three of those priorities.

Since joining NSTA in 2017, Granger has created the foundations for an open data approach across the industry. As part of this work, she has launched the UK National Data Repository (NDR) and is now developing a range of other initiatives:

Our work has enabled data to be used as a catalyst for the priorities of our colleagues in terms of accelerating the energy transition and energy security.

Opening access

Granger’s first priority was to establish the right conditions for working closely with industry. As an independent regulator, the organization had to ensure external parties were willing and able to provide the right information:

We created legislation to give us the powers to collect data. What that means is that the industry is required to report certain data to us. And then after confidentiality periods, we can make that data publicly available.

With the right foundations in place, Granger and her team created the digital platforms that would enable industry, government, academia or other interested parties to access data. 

The key element here is the NDR, which is a bespoke, cloud-based platform that holds information reported to NSTA by petroleum licensees and operators of offshore infrastructure:

That platform was built specifically for us, so we can ensure all data is held in the cloud to make it easily accessible for anyone. We have just hit the petabyte mark, so it’s a huge volume of data that the industry can use to make better decisions.

The NDR was built by specialist Osokey, while in terms of cloud, NSTA works on Azure, with resilience provided by AWS. Alongside the NDR, Granger’s team is working to make information available to the industry in a variety of ways:

Our second key product is our own data. This data is created through our regulatory purpose. And that’s open data anyone can access and it is geospatial data. We're using ArcGIS for the geo-spatial data.

Delivering benefits

NSTA’s open approach to data is paying dividends. Information in the NDS has been collected across decades of work from the 1960s onwards. A large quantity of the information is seismic data, which is now being used in line with regulatory requirements to create new benefits. Granger explains:

What we've seen is companies taking that data, re-processing it, and then using it for offshore wind bids. We feel that a big chunk of that success is because companies can access the data. So, it’s about taking data, using it to understand the sub-surface rocks and the geology, and applying it in a different way.

NSTA’s data is also being used to support carbon storage licencing. Data has been packaged up and made available through NSTA’s Open Data Site. This process allows interested parties to understand subsets of information and to consider which licences to apply for. Granger says: 

We saw our data downloads go up by 20-fold on the week of issuing the carbon storage licencing round. We think that 60% of the UK’s carbon abatement can be made through carbon storage. And those licences give us the ability, as a country, to store up to 10% of the carbon. Data isn’t the only thing that enables that process. But if people didn't understand the subsurface, they wouldn't be able to apply for the licences.

Other parties also hook into the data, she adds, including academics who are using the information for research processes:

About 180 universities or academic organisations are accessing our data from every continent, apart from Antarctica. Academic research is a huge chunk of what we do.

Embracing change 

When it comes to longer-term plans for technology and open data, Granger says there are a couple of key items on the to do list. On the digital and data side, NSTA received powers in the 2023 Energy Act to collect carbon storage data from industry:

We're going out to public consultation at the moment on some of the aspects of that process to make sure we've got the industry’s view on how we implement that data collection. Then, going forward, we’ll be making sure we’ve got the digital tools that sit on top of that new area of data collection.

Another priority for Granger and her team is dealing with technical debt and ensuring NSTA’s transactional systems operate on modern technology, which she refers to as the creation of the organisation’s Digital Energy Platform:

That platform will have the National Data Repository as one app, the Open Data Site with geospatial information as another, and then our Energy Portal, which is a transactional system between ourselves, industry and other government departments. So, our portfolio of work covers that whole platform.

Granger’s advice for other tech and business leaders who are thinking about implementing digital technology and open data policies is to avoid focusing on technology first:

Think about people, skills and culture, and what you're trying to achieve as an outcome. So, rather than jumping to a product on the technology side, define what your outcomes are. Make sure you've got a great group of people to deliver those outcomes, who've got the skills, and then start to think about the technology.

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