The UK aims to kick-start the next phase of its carbon capture and storage ambitions later in March with the launch of a new project selection process, as the North Sea industry renews calls for concessions on punitive upstream oil and gas taxes before election campaigning gets underway.
Receive daily email alerts, subscriber notes & personalize your experience.Register Now
In a statement, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy confirmed plans "to launch a process for selecting" the next tranche of CCS "clusters" later this month, following a government commitment March 15 to spend GBP20 billion ($24 billion) over 20 years supporting the nascent CCS sector.
It comes after a first round of CCS projects, known as Track 1, was given approval by the government in 2021, with BP and Italy's Eni leading the winning bids. Since then the process is perceived by critics to have become bogged down; a Shell-backed project known as Acorn, involving storage of CO2 in reservoirs off the coast of Scotland, has been kept merely in "reserve."
Ahead of a March 15 Budget statement, Conservative Party lawmakers are thought to have been briefed that the government now favors the Shell project, intended to help decarbonize facilities such as the Grangemouth refinery and kickstart hydrogen production, for potential approval under the next phase, known as Track 2.
However, pressure is also growing for further support for the North Sea oil and gas sector as part of the government's new emphasis on energy security, and as oil and gas prices moderate. Prices have fallen back sharply in recent days on the back of global banking and economic concerns.
The industry is seeking a 'price floor' for oil that would soften the 'energy profits levy' introduced in 2022, which has raised the headline tax on upstream oil and gas earnings to 75%, and prompted several companies to cut back on activity such as drilling.
North Sea benchmark Dated Brent, assessed by S&P Global Commodity Insights, is now $10/b lower than when the government announced an increase in the energy profits levy to its current level on Nov. 21, 2022.
Amid unconfirmed reports of plans for an 'Energy Day' on March 30 involving senior government figures visiting the energy hub of Aberdeen, industry sources said some figures in government wanted to make a bigger "splash" then just incremental progress on CCS, such as approving a new upstream project, or tax breaks.
Multiple sources said the CEO of Norway's Equinor, Anders Opedal, had been in London recently for talks thought to cover the contentious 350 million barrel Rosebank oil project in the West of Shetland area.
It comes as the opposition Labour Party — seen as a strong contender at the next election, due by January 2025 — is expected to take a harsher line on concessions to the oil and gas sector as part of its own zero-carbon commitments.
The Labour Party and Equinor declined to comment on a claim by one industry source that Opedal had met Labour leader Keir Starmer in February.
However, one industry source said the approaching election represented a narrowing window of opportunity for a climbdown on the tax issue, amid multiple reports that such a climbdown had been considered for the recent Budget on March 15.
"There's going to be one more window when the windfall tax and all the rest could be modified: March 30," the source said, adding, however, this could be complicated by a progress report due out the day before from the government's Committee on Climate Change, looking at how far the country has got with its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.
A government spokesperson told S&P Global Commodity Insights: "The government will set out further action later this month to support green industries in the UK and meet our net-zero commitments."
Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed Dated Brent at $73.14/b on March 16, up $1.30/b.