New research led by the University of Aberdeen highlights the “huge potential” of carbon storage sites across a North Sea CCS ‘super basin’.
In a new study, scientists from the University’s Centre for Energy Transition used a combination of subsurface data and techniques usually used in oil and gas exploration to evaluate storage opportunities across the so-called Anglo-Polish Super Basin in the Southern North Sea.
It confirms the “huge potential” of the basin, and sheds further light on areas offered as part of the UK’s first carbon storage licence round.
Published in the international journal AAPG Bulletin, the two-year study funded by the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC) was led by Professor John Underhill, director of the university’s transition centre, along with colleagues from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh.
The Anglo-Polish Super Basin is major geologic formation which runs from eastern England to central Poland, spanning a distance of nearly 600 miles by over 200 miles. It includes onshore and shallow offshore waters across five countries – UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Poland.
It is one of 40 super basins to be recognised globally, ten of which are responsible for the majority of oil and gas production.
“Urgent” need for cross-industry collaboration
Analysis shows that sandstone reservoirs within the Permian Rotliegend Group and the Triassic Bunter Sandstone Formation form “viable targets” for carbon storage in the UK’s Southern North Sea, and identifies “many areas” suitable for use.
This includes sites which would be used by many of the CCUS cluster projects currently under development across the UK.
Indeed, of the 13 offshore licenses offered as part of the first CCUS licensing round, eight lie in the Southern North Sea, five of which are within the main Rotliegend Group fairway.
However, the paper also cautions that areas offered in this first round followed “the path of least resistance” and were deliberately picked to avoid other offshore uses such as wind sites, shipping lanes, and unexploded ordnance.
“Once areas are designated as wind farms with dense, fixed grids, there would be little space available for subsequent licensing rounds within the lower risk areas of the Rotliegend play fairway that we have identified.”
“If the optimal use of the subsurface is sought, there is an urgent need for wind farm operators, those promoting carbon storage, and the regulators to resolve the overlaps and work out which technology gets primacy in the area,” the authors add.
Their warning follows a long-running dispute (now resolved) between BP and wind developer Orsted over their conflicting plans for an offshore area that spanned both the Endurance reservoir – earmarked for carbon storage – and the Hornsea Four wind farm.
The Aberdeen University researchers hope the analysis will provide a framework that can be used to determine CCS suitability in other major basins around the world, as part of global efforts to safely store billions of tonnes of CO2 in geological formations.
Professor Underhill said: “The study highlights the areas where the best carbon stores are located and provides a basis to evaluate and rank sites.
“Perhaps just as importantly, it also demonstrates the urgent need for regulators and stakeholders to work together to resolve any issues that may arise from the co-location and overlap of technologies to avoid competition for the offshore real estate. This is vital in ensuring that the UK remains on track to retain energy security and meet its net zero emission targets.
“The study also has global relevance and application, and the workflow we have used has already been adopted by other countries. We have also used it to undertake studies in other parts of the UK as well as in Malaysia, Egypt and Brazil.”
The work was escribed as “world-class” by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA).
The regulator’s head of exploration and new ventures, Dr Nick Richardson said: “The Aberdeen University-led team has made a timely and incisive contribution with this world-class research that puts the UK’s storage resource capability on the map as a leading destination for the sequestration of industrial emissions from across Europe.
“By establishing a consistent regional geological framework, this work will assist the evaluation of storage sites within the Southern North Sea, allowing the optimisation of their exploitation and supporting assessments of risk and uncertainty.
“It will also aid regulatory and marine planning bodies in their ongoing efforts to identify synergies between offshore activities, and maximise opportunities for innovation and collaboration on the pathway to net zero.”