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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Norway’s Ambitious Plan to Store Carbon Dioxide in the North Sea

  • Norway plans to store captured carbon dioxide from the oil and gas industry under the North Sea's seabed.
  • This project, called Longship, aims to reduce emissions but raises safety concerns from environmentalists.
  • CCS technology is expensive but is seen as a potential tool for hard-to-decarbonize sectors.
Norway

Norway has big plans to pump waste carbon from oil and gas operations and heavy industry under the seabed of the North Sea to be stored safely underground. It believes this method will be key to decarbonizing its fossil fuel activities in the coming years and supporting a green transition. However, some fear that this process cannot be done safely without risk to the environment. Others believe that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is merely a band-aid on a bullet wound and that countries should be fixing their carbon problem at the source rather than mitigating the effects of fossil fuel production. Nonetheless, so long as the world relies on oil and gas, companies will be looking for ways to produce lower-carbon fossil fuels through innovative methods, such as CCS technology. 

The Norwegian government plans to establish a “central storage camp” in the North Sea, where it will inject waste carbon to be stored rather than released into the atmosphere. CCS activities are becoming increasingly popular for companies working in hard-to-abate industries, as a means of decarbonizing operations. Norway aims to show the world that CCS technology can be used to store carbon safely underground through its Longship project. The country has long used CCS technology to capture and inject carbon from fossil fuel production into rock formations on the continental shelf and believes this project will help significantly reduce industry emissions. 

Terje Aasland, Norway’s Energy Minister, stated “I think it will prove to the world that this technology is important and available.” He added, “I think the North Sea, where we can store CO2 permanently and safely, may be a central storage camp for several industries and countries and Europe.” Aasland also responded to critics of the technology explaining, “It’s several thousand meters under the seabed, it’s safe, it’s permanent and it’s a good way to tackle the climate emissions.”

Nevertheless, environmentalists worry that the process could cause permanent harm to the environment. They point to Norway’s previous CCS projects, Sleipner and Snøhvit, which both experienced challenges in getting off the ground. Norway is using these projects as success stories to be emulated, but some question the long-term viability of this model. Further, while the project will help reduce the emissions of hard-to-abate industries, it will not be able to store anywhere near enough carbon to make a significant impact on climate change, with greater decarbonization efforts needed to make a difference.

Related: Forgotten Gas Reserves Could Be A Gamechanger For European Energy

The $2.6-billion Longship project will be carried out in two phases. The first will establish a storage space for 1.5 million metric tonnes of carbon a year, to operate for 25 years, with CO2 being stored from as early as 2025. The following phase could store up to 5 million tonnes more. The government acknowledged that ambitious CCS projects, such as this, are extremely expensive, particularly as Longship is “the first of its kind”. It hopes that the experience will help reduce the cost of similar future projects. Further, it believes that using CCS could make it significantly cheaper to achieve climate goals.

A trio of oil majors, Norway’s Equinor, Britain’s Shell, and France’s TotalEnergies, which have all shown interest in CCS technologies in recent years, will manage the transport and storage of the carbon, under their Northern Lights joint venture. The venture will allow for cross-border CO2 transportation and storage, helping to decarbonise operations across the region. Anders Opedal, the CEO and president of Equinor, stated “This is a major milestone for the development of carbon capture, transport, and storage. With the first commercial agreement for the transportation and storage of CO2, we open a value chain that is critical for the world to reach net zero by 2050. Together with our partners, we are building infrastructure to decarbonize industry and energy, securing industrial activity and jobs in a low carbon future.”

Related: 2 Companies That Could Help Europe Win Its Energy War With Russia

While some believe that Longship is a move in the right direction, many are concerned that not enough is known about the effects of injecting carbon. A 2023 report from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) in Washington discussed the increasingly popular trend of CCS. By mid-2023 there was a pipeline of 50 offshore CCS projects worldwide, which could increase the current amount of carbon stored under the seabed by 200 times a year. 

Nikki Reisch, the director of the climate and energy program at CIEL, stated of Norway’s approach to carbon storage, “Norway’s interpretation of the concept of a circular economy seems to say, ‘we can both produce your problem, with fossil fuels and solve it for you, with CCS.’” She added, “If you look closely under the hood at those projects, they’ve faced serious technical problems with the CO2 behaving in unanticipated ways. While they may not have had any reported leaks yet, there’s nothing to ensure that unpredictable behavior of the CO2 in a different location might not result in a rupture of the caprock or other release of the injected CO2.” 

Only time will tell whether CCS projects can be as effective at helping hard-to-abate industries to decarbonize operations as governments are promising. Norway is using innovative CCS technology to deliver the first-of-its-kind Longship project, which will likely be replicated in other areas of the world if successful and no regional regulations are introduced to prevent these types of developments. However, with little known about the long-term impact of injecting carbon under the seabed, many environmentalists are understandably concerned about the potential harm these types of operations may have on the environment. 

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By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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