Accelerating plans for carbon capture in the North Sea could provide a much-needed lifeline for the region’s offshore sector, a new report suggests.
The study by Edinburgh University says storing carbon from industries such as Teesside’s pharmaceutical sector in the spaces left by oil extraction under the North Sea could provide the benefits needed to kickstart new exploration in the area.
Such schemes would also have environmental benefits, the study says, and help the UK meet its international targets for reducing carbon emissions.
Hundreds of jobs have been lost in the region’s oil and gas companies in the last year as the plunge in the global oil price led to reduced exploration in high-cost North Sea fields.
But according to Stuart Haszeldine, professor of carbon capture and storage at Edinburgh University, combining carbon storage with the exploration of new subsea fields would be a win-win situation.
He said: “North Sea oil and gas are facing an existential cost challenge, and at the same time the UK is struggling to fund its electricity decarbonisation clean-up.
“The beauty of this new analysis is that it shows how to help develop big projects in the power industry, while also supporting a transition of the abilities and profits from offshore hydrocarbons into new, sustainable jobs.”
Prof Haszeldine’s report says that projects that brought carbon capture closer together with subsea exploration would extend the life of the North Sea oil fields, reduce imports of oil and gas, maintain employment and develop the UK’s export capability.
But he warned that there was a lack of supportive legislation or tax breaks for such schemes, which would be necessary to kickstart the industry.
George Rafferty, chief executive of NOF Energy - the umbrella body for energy companies in the North East - said: “This is an interesting concept, which could, in the future, support the industry’s ambitions to maximise recovery from the North Sea in the most efficient manner possible.
“It very much fits into the challenge the industry and its supply chain has set itself to create innovative, technology-led solutions that deliver economically sustainable operations.”
The North East is at the forefront of carbon capture and storage, with the Tees Valley City Deal including a £1m investment in the technology and Newcastle-based Five-Quarter aiming to create hundreds of offshore jobs in the sector.
But the technology is not without its critics, with environmental activists yesterday announcing a 113,000-name petition against plans for a carbon capture project at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire.