Natural gas is made up of a mixture of hydrocarbon gases that can vary widely between sources. Natural gas quality is determined by the relative quantities of these hydrocarbon gases, and therefore gas quality also varies considerably.
In Britain, domestic and industrial appliances are designed to operate within a certain gas quality specification range. The current gas quality standards are based on the quality of gas sourced from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), as this has traditionally been the primary source of supply for Britain.
However, as a result of the natural decline in domestic gas production, Britain has become increasingly reliant on gas imported from Europe and other world markets, and this trend looks set to continue in the future.
Over the next decade, gas arriving in Europe may come from more diverse sources and may therefore be characterised by a wider range of gas quality. This could mean that in future years gas in continental Europe may be less likely to be compatible with Britain’s gas quality standards. Consequently it may be necessary to take action to alter the gas quality before continental gas can be accepted onto Britain’s gas network. This could have consequences for Britain’s security of gas supply.
Europe’s different gas quality standards
In December 2005, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) determined Britain’s current quality specifications should not change until 2020 at the earliest, as the cost of accommodating a broader gas quality range would be too high.
In 2006, we consulted industry stakeholders through the Gas Quality Scenario Development and Economic Regulation workstreams. These workstreams assessed the risks posed by gas that falls outside Britain’s specifications and evaluated different approaches to investing in gas treatment facilities at entry points to Britain’s network.
With different gas quality standards across Europe and an increase in gas flow to Britain, we are working closely with our European counterparts to ensure gas quality does not become a barrier to trade.
In May 2015 the European Commission adopted the Interoperability and Data Exchange Network Code. The code will ensure that the way transmission system operators operate their businesses and communicate with one another will be integrated so that technical and communications operations (including differences in gas quality) cannot pose a barrier to cross-border trade. The code will be implemented from 1 May 2016.