The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea
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The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

The Norwegian government aims to demonstrate the feasibility of securely injecting and storing carbon waste beneath the seabed, proposing the North Sea as a potential hub for storing emissions from various industries across Europe.

Offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) encompasses technologies designed to capture carbon emissions from high-polluting activities, transport them to storage sites, and securely sequester them beneath the seabed.

The oil and gas sector has long advocated for CCS as a viable solution to combat climate change, with polluting industries increasingly considering offshore carbon storage as a means to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

However, critics have voiced concerns regarding the enduring risks associated with permanent carbon storage beneath the seabed, while activists argue that such technology poses a new threat to marine ecosystems and diverts attention from tangible progress on climate change.

Norwegian Energy Minister Terje Aasland expressed confidence in his country’s Longship project, asserting its capability to establish a comprehensive CCS value chain. He emphasized the importance and availability of this technology, particularly highlighting the potential for the North Sea to serve as a centralized storage facility for multiple industries and countries across Europe.

The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea
The North Sea could become a ‘central storage camp’ for carbon waste. Not everyone likes the idea

Norway’s Pioneering Carbon Management Initiatives

Norway boasts a rich legacy in carbon management, having undertaken the capture and reinjection of carbon from gas production into seabed formations on its continental shelf for nearly three decades.

The Sleipner and Snøhvit carbon management projects, operational since 1996 and 2008 respectively, stand as testament to the feasibility of this technology. These projects effectively extract carbon from produced gas, compress it, and transport it via pipelines for reinjection underground.

Norway’s Energy Minister Terje Aasland highlights these accomplishments as a beacon of success in carbon capture storage. He invites skeptics to witness firsthand the meticulous operations at Sleipner and Snøhvit, emphasizing the safety, permanence, and efficacy of carbon storage thousands of meters beneath the seabed.

Despite their successes, both Sleipner and Snøhvit faced initial challenges, including occasional interruptions during carbon injection. These hurdles, highlighted in a research note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, underscore the complexities surrounding long-term technical and financial viability in underground carbon storage.

Longship Project: Pioneering Future Endeavors

Norway embarks on its next chapter in carbon management with the ambitious $2.6 billion Longship project, set to unfold in two phases. The initial phase targets an annual storage capacity of 1.5 million metric tons of carbon over 25 years, with carbon injections slated to commence as early as next year. A potential second phase aims for a storage capacity of 5 million tons of carbon.

Campaigners, while acknowledging the significance of Longship’s expansion, caution that even with projected increases, the stored carbon remains a minuscule fraction of Europe’s overall emissions from fossil fuels.

Norway’s government acknowledges the challenges and costs associated with Longship’s development, with Aasland conceding its high expenses. However, he remains optimistic, emphasizing that pioneering projects like Longship pave the way for future endeavors. He believes that despite the costs, Longship will serve as a compelling demonstration of the feasibility of large-scale carbon storage initiatives.

Driving Longship Forward: The Northern Lights Collaboration

A crucial element of the Longship initiative is the Northern Lights joint venture, a strategic partnership comprising Equinor, Shell, and TotalEnergies, facilitated by Norway’s state-backed oil and gas giant. Tasked with overseeing the transportation and storage aspects of Longship, this collaboration plays a pivotal role in the project’s success.

Børre Jacobsen, the managing director of the Northern Lights Joint Venture, highlighted the overwhelming interest the project has received. Speaking via videoconference with CNBC, Jacobsen emphasized Norway’s extensive history of CCS efforts and the concerted effort to learn from past experiences. He pointed to the North Sea as a prime example of a vast storage basin, noting the advantages of offshore CCS due to its uninhabited nature.

Offshore Carbon Storage: Addressing Public Perception Challenges

Jacobsen acknowledged the public acceptance risk associated with onshore carbon dioxide (CO2) storage, attributing it to challenges in managing public perception despite robust technical solutions to mitigate leakage risks from reservoirs. He expressed confidence in the reliability of onshore storage solutions but emphasized the hurdles posed by public sentiment, leading to the exploration of offshore storage options.

He continued, highlighting the importance of recognizing all potential storage sites given the magnitude of CO2 emissions. Jacobsen stressed that the location of storage shouldn’t be a primary concern as long as the relevant entities are willing to accommodate CO2 storage on their continental shelves.

Evaluating Offshore Carbon Risks

A report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) revealed a significant surge in offshore carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiatives globally. With over 50 new projects announced by mid-2023, these endeavors represent a remarkable increase in annual carbon injection beneath the seafloor.

Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program at CIEL, expressed skepticism regarding Norway’s approach, suggesting a discrepancy between the country’s commitment to a circular economy and its reliance on fossil fuels. She highlighted technical challenges encountered in previous projects, cautioning against unforeseen complications that could compromise the integrity of offshore storage sites.


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