North Sea – Activists on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza documented a large methane leak located in the British exclusive economic zone in the North Sea. Using an ROV (Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle), they were able to film two of the gas-emitting craters at about 100m water depth on the seafloor (at positions 57°55.30’N, 001°37.87’E and 57°54.81’N, 001°38.72’E), which are between 50 and 15 meters in diameter and up to 20 and 9 meters deep, respectively. The leak was caused by a major blow-out during an oil drilling operation 30 years ago, and is still emitting methane; a gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.[1][2]

“Like many places across the North Sea, climate-destroying methane has been leaking here for decades, yet the oil and gas industry, instead of closing the leak and monitoring it, continues to drill holes in the sea bed, while decision-makers turn a blind eye. We are in the middle of a climate crisis fueling fires, floods and inequality across the world and this leaking methane is a climate change multiplier!” said Dr Sandra Schöttner, marine biologist and oceans campaigner with Greenpeace Germany, who is leading the scientific work on board the Esperanza.

In 1990, the Swedish Stena Drilling Company, on behalf of Mobil North Sea (now Exxon Mobil), accidentally tapped a gas pocket with the drilling platform High Seas Driller while searching for oil, causing a blowout that resulted in several craters on the seabed.[3][4] An international team of scientists had previously been to this site and estimated in 2015 that up to 90 litres of methane per second were being released. [5] The leaking borehole has been returned by Exxon Mobil to the British state who in 2000 determined that further monitoring was not required, believing that the reservoir would soon be depleted. But 30 years later the greenhouse gas keeps escaping into the atmosphere.[1]

According to a recent independent study, an estimated total of 8,000–30,000 tonnes of methane per year escape from gas leaks from more than 15,000 boreholes in the North Sea[6] – adding to the 72,000 tonnes of methane that normal operations of platforms in the North Sea release every year.[7] 

The Greenpeace ships Esperanza and Rainbow Warrior are on a month-long documentation and peaceful protest tour to document the impacts the extraction of fossil fuels is making in the North Sea. Teams on board will gather evidence of the extreme industrialisation of the region by the oil and gas industry, which has been polluting the ocean, fueling the climate crisis and exacerbating inequality with its “business as usual” operation model.

“The oil and gas industry has been fuelling the climate crisis and polluting our oceans for decades. This industry does not belong in the new green world we need to build after the pandemic. We need a rapid change to renewable energies and a just shift of fossil fuel workers to industries with a future. We need governments to bail out the climate and workers, not the polluters,” Schöttner added.


Photos are available here

Videos are available here:

Notes for editors:


[1] Schneider von Deimling et al. (2015): Ongoing methane discharge at well site 22/4b (North Sea) and discovery of a spiral vortex bubble plume motion. Mar Petrol Geol 68: 718-730. 

[2] Cornwall (2020): Humans are a bigger source of climate-altering methane, new studies suggest.

[3] Greenpeace e.V. (2020): 25 years after Brent Spar – Offshore oil and gas production in the North Sea.

[4] Rehder et al. (1998): The Multiple Sources and Patterns of Methane in North Sea Waters. Aquat Geochem 4, 403–427.

[5] Leifer, Ira & Judd, Alan. (2015). The UK22/4b blowout 20 years on: Investigations of continuing methane emissions from sub-seabed to the atmosphere in a North Sea context. Marine and Petroleum Geology. 68. 10.1016/j.marpetgeo.2015.11.012.

[6] Böttner et al. (2020): Greenhouse gas emissions from marine decommissioned hydrocarbon wells – leakage detection, monitoring and mitigation strategies. Intl J Greenh Gas Con 100: 103119.

[7] Furthermore, 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, 110,000 tonnes of nitrogen oxides, 78,000 tonnes of volatile organic compounds and 3771 tonnes of sulphur dioxide from the oil industry pollute our climate per year, as also shown in the recent Greenpeace report ; see [3]


Dr Sandra Schöttner, marine biologist and campaigner, Greenpeace Germany: +49 (0) 151 56 90 44 45 [email protected]

Anna Arbogast, press officer, Greenpeace Germany: +49 (0) 175 80 41 025 [email protected]

Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0)20 718 2470 (available 24 hours), [email protected]