Scottish firm plans to use oil and gas infrastructure to store CO2 in
depleted beds … but big players are notable by their absence.
CARBON capture and storage (CCS) sounds like an ingenious recipe for
reducing carbon dioxide levels and tackling climate change … take the CO2
from the burning of coal and gas in power generation, transport it to the
North Sea and inject it deep into depleted oil and gas fields. CCS though
is no easy, bargain basement solution. Projects in the past two decades
have foundered because of the daunting costs and government unwillingness
to subsidise the technology, which is as yet unproven in the UK.
This is about to change: last month Banchory-based Pale Blue Dot Energy
(PBD) won the licence for its Acorn CCS project, which plans to reuse
existing oil and gas infrastructure to transport and store CO2 and
repurpose or rebuild an existing CO2 facility at the St Fergus gas terminal
Acorn is expected to capture around 200,000 tonnes of CO2 from the St
Fergus terminal and using existing pipelines to transport it for storage in
one of three depleted North Sea gas fields.
And unlike some of the aborted earlier schemes, Acorn is said to provide a
relatively low-cost entry point for CCS in the UK, through a small-scale
project from which an extensive CCS network could be developed.
CCS captures CO2 from the burning of coal and gas for power generation and
from the steel, cement and other industries, and transports it to a
suitable storage site where it is injected into the ground.
Proponents of the technology believe that CO2 may be Scotland’s biggest
natural resource card, one yet to be played, with the North Sea’s oil and
gas production balanced by an equal or greater amount of CO2 being put back
in the ground.
Stuart Haszeldine, Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at the
University of Edinburgh, said that the CCS resource in Scotland equates to
35% of Europe’s CO2 storage potential, which can permanently store more
than 100 years of emissions from the UK’s industry, power generation,
heating and transport sectors. “Our location is one of the top three in
Europe that can offer a CO2 storage ‘hub’, fed by shipping from around the
UK and the EU,” he said.
Even President Trump has done his bit for CCS: In February 2018 he signed
new tax credits into law (with, unusually, bipartisan support) that reward
oil companies for CCS.
However, not everyone is convinced that CCS is the elixir that answers the
Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change’s plea for “rapid and
far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport
and cities, in order to keep the rise in global temperature below the 1.5°C
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, has said that
as Scotland’s two coal-fired power stations are now closed, “the main
rationale for CCS in Scotland has disappeared” adding that: “Instead of
chasing something that we don’t need, the UK government should be spending
its money on renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage, all of
which deliver immediate reductions in carbon emissions.”
In 2015, the UK government cancelled its £1bn competition for CCS in which
the gas-fired Peterhead power station was in the running. Shell and SSE had
hoped to make Peterhead a commer-cial-scale, gas-fired, full-chain carbon
capture and storage unit, the first of its type in the world.
Earlier, in 2007, BP pulled out of a plan to build the world’s first CCS
power plant at Peterhead, citing lack of government support in time to
establish the project.
Clearly there must be a reason for business to securely store fossil
carbon, with effective carbon pricing and trading permits. Stuart
Haszeldine proposes a scheme in which a certificate of storage for each
tonne of carbon is given to fossil fuel producers.
The tax credit scheme in the US is certainly an incentive but companies
operating in Scotland will be looking for a strong, persuasive business
case to progress the technology quickly enough to make a significant impact
on climate change.
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