Oil and gas industry challenges EU estimate on microplastics use

European Commission study last year. It has been named as an area of investigation in ECHA’s recent call for evidence on the use of products with intentionally added microplastics. The study, carried out by UK energy consultants AMEC Foster Wheeler, gave a sector-by-sector overview of tonnages and concentrations of microplastics in products. It said there was “evidence that suggests the use of microplastics in offshore oil and gas could be substantial, in the magnitude of hundreds of tonnes”. The study followed a Commission request to ECHA to investigate the need for a restriction on microplastics. It could “serve as a basis for a restriction proposal under REACH”, it said. But Nik Robinson, secretary of the European Oilfield Speciality Chemicals Association (EOSCA), told Chemical Watch that the EU study had relied on “poor and unreferenced reports”. The EU study did not give a precise quantitative estimate for the oil and gas sector, due to lack of available data. But it assumed a nominal amount of 1,000 tonnes per year “for a default worst-case assessment” of potential environmental hazard.


Survey indications

EOSCA has carried out a survey of its members as part of its input into ECHA’s restriction consultation. Mr Robinson said the data generated from this shows that these figures are “extremely high and not in line with the reported discharges of 2016”. He did not disclose the discharge estimate reported in the survey but said that a substantial part of microplastics used in the oil industry is not released into the environment. More than 30 suppliers contributed to the survey. The information collected, combined with that from five contracting parties under OSPAR – the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, means EOSCA has data covering almost 90% of products in the sector, Mr Robinson said.

However, he added that the trade association would not publish the survey results until after an ECHA stakeholder workshop in Helsinki on 30-31 May. This will discuss the outcome of the agency’s consultation on microplastics. Many assumptions have been made about different industries’ use of microplastics in response to ECHA’s call, Mr Robinson said, “and we want to ensure that these match”. Meanwhile, OSPAR is conducting its own study to quantify microplastics discharged by contracting parties, according to the EU study. Mr Robinson explained microplastics in the oil and gas sector are used in: drilling: additives in cement, used to keep steel tubing in place; and loss circulation material added to a mud system to prevent the flow of drilling fluid into a weak or porous rock in the well bore; production: wax inhibitors to prevent wax restrictions and plugs in pipework systems as oil cools and solidifies; and pipelines: cross-linking chemicals – compounds that react with other chemicals in the pipeline, creating a fluid of high, closely controlled viscosity.


Key definition

For EOSCA, the definition of microplastics and their “fate and partitioning” is crucial to the discussion about potential discharges and remedies. It has started to speak with ECHA and wants them to consider the specific partitioning that takes place in the oil and gas industry, which means less is actually discharged into the sea.

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