Storing Europe’s carbon emissions under the North Sea could be as lucrative for the north-east as oil and gas, experts have claimed.
MPs were told yesterday that the region was poised to cash in on an “immense potential value” if old offshore fields could be used to bury the continent’s carbon dioxide.
They heard that the opportunities in the new carbon capture and storage (CCS) sector could fully “compensate” for the decline in traditional North Sea oil and gas.
Witnesses told Westminster’s energy and climate change committee that the existing skills base and supply chains in the north-east would easily transfer over – and the new technology would “sell worldwide”.
But they warned that the UK Government must do more to realise the industry’s potential.
CCS involves capturing greenhouse gases such as CO2 before they are released into the atmosphere at power stations and other industrial sites, then storing them in the ground.
It is viewed as a key tool in the worldwide battle against climate change. A CCS pilot project at Peterhead’s gas-fired power station is one of two preferred bidders for £1billion of UK Government funds to prove the technology can work on a commercial scale.
Governments across Europe are committed to tough targets to cut carbon emissions but are reluctant to store carbon onshore because of public opposition.
However the North Sea could offer the solution, with depleted fields under the seabed thought to be able to store 70billion tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent of 350 years of UK carbon emissions.
“The resource is of sufficient magnitude to be able to provide a service not only to the UK community towards decarbonisation but to continental Europe as well,” Ward Goldthorpe, CCS programme manager for the Crown Estate, told MPs.
He added the opportunity was believed to be “at least as large as the North Sea oil and gas industry” in economic and industrial terms.
“Potential economic opportunities will exist for UK supply chains that currently support the North Sea oil and gas industry,” said written evidence from the Crown Estate, which manages the UK’s coastline.
“If a CO2 transport and storage (CTS) sector is encouraged to develop, it will be possible to transfer skills, services and supply chains from oil and gas construction and operations. Decline in North Sea activity could be compensated for in CTS activity.”
Stuart Haszeldine, Edinburgh University professor of carbon capture and storage, gave the MPs a similar verdict. “It’s a giant resource to have,” he said.
“The North Sea is one of the leaders in offshore technology and provides a large export value to the UK out of the north-east of Scotland.
“We could transfer a lot of that expertise into carbon dioxide storage.”