Monday, 17 August 2009

North Sea’s new bonanza

Jonathan Leake
Britain could be in line for a new North Sea bonanza following research which reveals its suitability to store billions of tons of waste carbon dioxide.
Scientists have found the rock formations beneath the sea bed have enough room to store up to 300 years’ worth of emissions from northern Europe’s power stations.CO2 It means Britain could potentially earn up to £4 billion a year by allowing countries such as Germany, France and Denmark captured from their power stations into rocksto pump CO2 beneath UK waters.
“We believe the carbon storage business could be huge for Britain with a value of £2 billion to £4 billion a year by 2030,” said Mike Stephenson, head of science for energy at the British Geological Survey (BGS). “We estimate it could sustain 30,00-60,000 jobs.”
The technology for capturing and burying CO2 has existed for some time but there has not been an incentive for power companies to adopt it.
However, the threat of global warming is now prompting governments and the European Union to tax utilities for the they emit. amount of CO2 As a result, “carbon capture and sequestration” (CCS) is increasingly becoming financially attractive. Two new studies have shown that Britain is better placed to exploit the technology than any other European country. One of the studies, by geologists at Edinburgh University, has shown that the parts of the North Sea controlled by Britain overlie vast tracts of sandstone rock strata that are ideal for holding CO2 These rocks are porous, allowing them to absorb large amounts of gas, but are capped by mudstone, a thick, impermeable rock, that stops the carbon dioxide escaping.
Professor Stuart Haszeldine, who oversaw the Edinburgh survey, said: “Our research suggests we could store up to 200m tons of CO2 in those rocks each year for 200-300 years.
“This is far more than Britain needs so we could take all the CO2 generated by power stations in north European countries. The British government needs to realise it has a huge asset here.”
The second study was carried out by Stephenson’s colleagues at the BGS who have been probing the fate of 10m tons of CO2 pumped under the sea bed by Statoil, the Norwegian energy company, since 1996. It showed the CO2 is stable and so unlikely to bubble back out as some had feared.
Such findings will reassure British ministers who are studying several proposals from utilities companies to start pilot carbon capture projects.
Under such schemes, power stations would extract CO2 from their flue gases, compress it into a liquid and pump it through pipelines to hubs on the North Sea coast.
From those hubs more pipes would carry CO2 along the seabed to installations similar to oil rigs. These would force it down boreholes into rock strata lying up to three miles beneath the seabed. The cost of these pilot schemes, if approved, would be passed on to customers through a levy of up to 2% on power bills.
Dorothy Thompson, chief executive of Drax Power, which operates the UK’s biggest coal-fired power station, said: “In the long term we hope that CCS will be a viable solution for carbon abatement.”