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The Carbon Capture Conundrum

Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage will continue to need a kick-start, from the chilly depths of the North Sea to the heat of Texas. Ultimately capturing carbon will have to be cheaper than not capturing it.
This article appeared in Vol. 16, No. 5 - 2019

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The Carbon Capture Conundrum

Deep, dark and turbulent are three adjectives which could be used to describe the often hostile waters of the North Sea. Here is a part of the world where oil and gas exploration and production has had to show long-term resilience and where the end of life decommissioning of facilities has reached new levels of complexity.

Given that hostile environments take no prisoners, it is perhaps appropriate that the North Sea should be a testing ground for the still-emerging solution of Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS). Capture carbon emissions, runs the thinking, and plunge them into a secure space where they can no longer make a contribution to global warming. While CCUS is both complex and costly it is increasingly seen as an essential element in efforts to meet emissions reduction targets.

  • An overview of CO2 storage options. Source: Provided by the Global CCS Institute

“CCUS will be vital to reach the global climate goals of the Paris agreement,” says Eldar Sætre, President and CEO of Equinor, which is partnering Shell and Total to explore CCUS opportunities as part of the Northern Lights project. Sætre makes the point that CCUS needs co-operation between companies and governments. Costs have to be shared and CCUS needs to be accepted as part of the solution.

Centred on looking at options for developing CO2 storage on the Norwegian continental shelf, Northern Lights, like other CCUS projects around the world, is all about making CCUS commercially viable. Clearly it helps to have three oil majors involved, along with the backing of a wealthy Norwegian government, but these projects have to earn their keep.

By the end of 2018 there were 43 carbon capture projects globally, the majority of these in the US, where it is used predominantly for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). This involves using carbon to push out more oil from a well which is nearing the end of its life. The carbon eventually fills the redundant well which is sealed for safe storage. The most recent incentive to push forward with EOR in the US has been to raise carbon tax credits from as little as $10 a ton to as much as $50 a ton for carbon captured and stored in geological storage. The consultancy firm Wood MacKenzie estimates that the carbon price would have to rise to $60 to make these projects viable in the long term.

The conclusion is that CCUS will continue to need a kick-start, from the chilly depths of the North Sea to the heat of Texas. Ultimately capturing carbon will have to be cheaper than not capturing it.

Further Reading on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS)

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Action to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Dr Nick Riley MBE; Carboniferous Ltd.
Is carbon capture, storage and utilisation (CSS) an essential greenhouse gas reducing technology, and what part can the oil and gas industry play in meeting reduction targets?
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 1 - 2018

Growth and Future of CCS in Europe
Gavin Ward and Martin Wilkes, RISC Advisory; Conor Ward, University of Edinburgh
Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can be used to reduce emissions, but can oil and gas save the future of CCS in Europe?
This article appeared in Vol. 15, No. 1 - 2018

Do we need CCS?
Jane Whaley
Professor Jon Gluyas explains the concept and importance of carbon capture and storage.
This article appeared in Vol. 13, No. 3 - 2016

Enhanced Oil Recovery – Utilising Captured CO2
David Bamford
Can the UK return to oil self-sufficiency?
This article appeared in Vol. 9, No. 1 - 2012

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