The Aberdeen-based Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) is setting up a unit called the Net Zero Solution Centre with the aim of “accelerating technologies and their deployment” and helping turn the UKCS into the world’s first net-zero carbon basin.
It will be paid for with £50 million of industry and government funding over five years.
The new centre will look at using oil and gas infrastructure to produce hydrogen and at powering platforms and other infrastructure using renewable energy, perhaps based on floating wind as the Norwegian company Equinor has proposed.
The Norwegians did, after all, pioneer the development of that technology.
OGTC also says it will be developing technologies that “will contribute to the growing demand for hydrogen production and carbon sequestration”.
I find that intriguing, especially given those technologies – which I’m sure can always be improved – exist already, having been developed some years ago. Not unexpectedly, though, most weren’t developed in Scotland or even in the UK, so perhaps they missed them.
Another proposal is to use data analysis to help reduce emissions and flaring. I’m sure someone will explain how that might work at a later stage.
What seems to be missing though are any plans to deal with emissions from offshore transportation, notably helicopters and, of course, shipping.
The latter, fortunately, is being worked on at a European level and, once again, our Norwegian chums are leading the pack, building hydrogen-fuel-cell ferries and short-distance freight carriers. The development of hydrogen-powered electric-drive trains for aircraft is also ongoing and making considerable progress.
This is an area in which we could do well, given Scotland once had a thriving, small aircraft industry.
Quite probably, though, OGTC may not want to get involved in any of that because with only £50m to spend, they will have to be a bit choosy, given the scale of the task.
You see the real problem is that I’m told that the amount of carbon dioxide being produced offshore on the UKCS is somewhere around 3% of the entire UK total.
This means that even if the OGTC programme is a raging success, we would still have 97% of the problem to deal with.
It occurs to me, then, that OGTC’s funds and effort might be better off directed towards working out how to deal with that 97%, especially given that a large part of it will be the result of burning what the oil and gas industry is producing, not how it’s producing it.
I’ve always believed that Scotland could produce as much oil and gas as we want and for as long as it makes economic sense, provided that we stop burning it.
That surely is the big challenge – keeping this industry going without doing any more damage to the planet.
For OGTC and the industry, and indeed governments, to try to shift the emphasis away from dealing with burning oil and gas to “look at us, we produce oil and gas really cleanly; we’re doing our bit” is quite preposterous.
When I read that scientists at Calgary University’s chemical engineering department had developed a way of extracting hydrogen from oil by injecting oxygen into the reservoir, I know these things are possible. But then the Canadians are also a major manufacturer of fuel cells while we’re not. I wonder why.
If our industry and government were already funding stuff like hydrogen production, carbon capture and utilisation in a meaningful way and we could see light at the end of this awful tunnel, then turning the UKCS into the world’s net zero carbon oil and gas basin would be a real bonus. But they’re not.
Ian Wood recently hit out at “retreating oil investors”. I immediately thought, “I understand why they’re retreating and I agree with them”.
The question is: Why isn’t industry making a real effort to satisfy investors’ needs by shifting direction, not by stopping oil and gas production but making sure what they’re producing is as harmless to the climate as possible?
So when your son or daughter or indeed your grandchildren ask if you did absolutely everything to stop climate change, wouldn’t it be better to say we developed the means to stop oil and gas causing climate change rather than we produced all that oil and gas in the cleanest way possible, oh, but sorry about the planet?
Think on people. Think on and try to do the right thing. Spend that £50m wisely.
Dick Winchester is a member of the Scottish Government’s energy advisory board.