After decades spent extracting fossil fuels from the UK’s North Sea, a consortium of oil companies is preparing to pump Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions back beneath the seabed to help meet the government’s climate ambitions.
BP has set out plans to lead an alliance of energy companies in siphoning off the carbon dioxide from factory flues under new plans in which almost half the UK’s industrial emissions will be stored beneath the North Sea from 2026.
The veteran North Sea oil extractor is leading a partnership including Italy’s state oil company Eni, Norway’s Equinor, National Grid, Royal Dutch Shell and French energy company Total in a plan to transport 17m tonnes of carbon dioxide every year from two separate carbon capture projects based in the Teesside and Humber industrial clusters on England’s east coast.
At Teesside, BP will work with the same oil companies, in a separate venture, to capture up to 10m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the industrial cluster – equivalent to the same emissions produced from the energy used by 3m UK homes – from the mid-2020s.
Meanwhile, at the Humber a separate alliance including National Grid, Equinor and power generator Drax hopes to capture at least 17m tonnes of CO2 from hundreds of refineries and factories.
The new alliance will operate the pipes and storage facility needed to transport the emissions from both industrial zones and dispose of almost 50% of the UK’s industrial emissions in saline aquifers beneath the North Sea seabed.
Andy Lane, BP’s head of carbon capture solutions, said the project represents a “significant milestone” towards developing the offshore infrastructure needed to safely store carbon, and the oil industry’s “willingness to come together and collaborate wherever possible” to contribute to the UK’s climate goals.
Carbon capture and storage is considered vital to the UK’s legally binding target to create a carbon neutral economy by 2050. It would also be “virtually impossible” for the world to meet its climate targets without it, according to the International Energy Agency.
There are still only 20 projects in commercial use worldwide but the IEA believes that in the last three years plans for more than 30 commercial carbon capture facilities have come forward, representing a potential investment of about $27bn (£20.7bn).
The UK government has promised £800m to decarbonise at least two heavy-industry “carbon clusters”, the first in 2025 and the second by 2030, falling short of calls from MPs and the government’s official independent climate advisers at the committee on climate change to roll out multiple carbon capture projects within the next five years.
The Northern Endurance Alliance has applied for funding from the government’s £170m industrial decarbonisation challenge which was set up this time last year. The support is part of the government’s £4.7bn industrial strategy challenge fund which was set up by the government to address the biggest barriers to the UK’s future productivity and earning power.
• This article was amended on 27 October 2020. An earlier version mistakenly said that the Drax coal-fired power plant would be involved in the Humber estuary carbon capture project; Drax’s coal units are set to close in March 2021, before carbon capture begins. Also an earlier version referred to salt caverns beneath the North Sea seabed, when it meant to refer to saline aquifers. This has been corrected.