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UK government, oil companies commit to carbon capture revival

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Edinburgh — The UK government and major oil and gas companies vowed Wednesday a renewed push to develop carbon capture, utilization and storage projects that faltered earlier in the decade.

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At an event in Edinburgh organized by the International Energy Agency, the government's energy and clean growth minister, Claire Perry, committed the country to getting its first large-scale carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) project up and running by the mid-2020s.

Ahead of next week's COP24 climate conference, IEA executive director Fatih Birol stressed that without CCUS, meeting the climate goals set out under the UN's Paris Agreement would be "practically impossible." A UN report published Tuesday showed global carbon emissions had resumed climbing last year, after three flat years, and are set to rise further this year.

The UK plan, outlined by Perry alongside the CEOs of Shell, BP and Norway's Equinor, envisages injecting CO2 into depleted North Sea fields, an idea that faltered in 2015 when the government withdrew GBP1 billion ($1.3 billion) of funding.

The updated version focuses not on one power station linked to a North Sea field, but envisages CCUS at industrial clusters, each with their own injection options and encompassing power stations and energy-intensive industries such as cement, steel, oil refining and chemicals manufacture. Energy-intensive industries produce around 24% of the world's carbon emissions, the IEA estimates.

"The UK is setting a world-leading ambition for developing and deploying carbon capture and storage technology," Perry said. "The time is now to seize this challenge to tackle climate change while kick-starting an entirely new industry."

Industry group the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative outlined a 'Clean Gas Project' involving BP, Shell, Equinor, Total, Italy's Eni and US company Occidental Petroleum to develop carbon capture at a cluster of businesses around a new gas-fired power plant to be built in the Teesside area, reflecting the renewed interest of several oil and gas majors in power supply.

"Shell is already working to mature a portfolio of CCS projects in countries such as Canada, the United States, here in the UK, Norway and The Netherlands," Shell CEO Ben van Beurden told the event. "We have the ambition to do more. We are ready and able to deliver CCUS if we can operate within a well-understood fiscal, policy and risk-allocation framework."

BP CEO Bob Dudley added: "The frameworks in the UK, the US, Norway and the Netherlands are great examples where multiple business models - it isn't just an oil company - a combination of power, steel and oil and gas can all participate in these things."

The UK plan entails a reduced government spending commitment compared with its previous effort, with GBP20 million to be spent on CCUS technologies at industrial sites and GBP315 million for decarbonizing such sites.

Perry also outlined plans for an 'Acorn' project at St Fergus on the Scottish coast focused on the transportation of carbon emissions to storage sites, with GBP175,000 of funding as well as Scottish government and EU support. Another project centers on the Merseyside area and plans to replace gas supply with hydrogen, reinjecting CO2 into depleted Liverpool Bay gas fields.

At the same event, the UAE's ADNOC committed to advancing carbon capture, mainly in its upstream oil and gas production. ADNOC's executive office director, Omar Suwaina Al Suwaidi, said the UAE would commit next year to one of two carbon capture projects, either at the Habshan-Bab gas processing facilities, or the Shah gas plant, where it is a partner with Occidental Petroleum. The UAE already captures CO2 at a steel plant, Al Reyadah.

CLIMATE NECESSITY

Delegates at Wednesday's events stressed that carbon capture and storage was less a problem of technical feasibility and more one of cost, economics and public acceptance, with only 20 large-scale projects in place worldwide.

But one UK scheme, a bioenergy carbon capture and storage pilot project, got underway this week at the Drax power station in North Yorkshire, which runs partly on wood pellets, with the first carbon capture due in a matter of weeks.

And the CEO of the Port of Rotterdam, Allard Castelein, told Platts "serious efforts" were underway to advance carbon capture and transportation at the energy-intensive industries around the port and a Front End Engineering and Design decision was imminent. He estimated the cost of transportation and injection of CO2 into depleted offshore gas fields at $30/mt.

Last month, the International Panel on Climate Change said past carbon emissions had already caused 1 degree Celsius of global warming and the world was not on track to meet the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement, which came into force in 2016.

The IEA estimates existing energy infrastructure such as power plants, industrial facilities and buildings will emit 550 gigatons of CO2, which are "locked in" over the period to 2040, equating to 95% of CO2 emissions permitted under its "Sustainable Development Scenario."

-- Nick Coleman, nick.coleman@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Robert Perkins, newsdesk@spglobal.com