Preferred Carbon Capture Method is Uneconomic

This Letter to the Editor, written by CO2 Coalition Member Euan Mearns, was published in The Press and Journal, October 28, 2023:

Sir, Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is viewed as an essential component of decarbonisation by many OECD governments and has been debated and considered in the UK for at least two decades. The technology exists to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) at power stations (gas or coal) or industrial works (e.g., oil refineries) using a range of technologies and to then pipe that CO2 to a geological location where it is pumped into porous formations in the deep sub-surface, where it is supposed to remain forever. In the UK, it is envisaged that the CO2 will be pumped into defunct oil or gas fields in the North Sea. Hence, instead of accumulating in the atmosphere, it is disposed of underground. The trouble with CCS is that it consumes a lot of resources, is therefore expensive (cost largely unknown) and provides no tangible benefit for those who have to pay for it, that is us.

CCS has a very wealthy cousin called CO2-EOR where EOR stands for enhanced oil recovery. All defunct oil fields still contain a lot of oil. This residual oil does not flow under its own steam and that is why it is left behind. Pumping CO2 into a defunct oil field does two things, it can dissolve some of the residual oil and mobilise it and it can expand the oil volume making it easier for the oil to flow. The oil can be pushed towards existing production wells and recovered. This effectively increases the oil recovery factor (a good thing in the world of economics) and extends the operational life of our oil fields (a good thing for the city of Aberdeen and the UK as a whole).

The trouble with CO2-EOR, from the simplified view of our politicians, is that it is CO2 neutral (ie. it does not increase or decrease CO2 emissions) although the level of neutrality varies from one field to the next. For our politicians, all obsessed with CO2 reduction targets, CO2 neutrality was not good enough. At least two opportunities to get CO2-EOR up and running in the UK have been squandered by successive governments that are obsessed with pure CCS that produces absolutely nothing of value and will be immensely costly to the public purse and to the population.

The government’s original plan was to support a single demonstration project to the tune of £1billion. This has now evolved to a plan to support many projects arranged into two clusters at a cost to the public purse of £20 billion over 20 years. The East Coast Cluster is based around Teeside and the Humber, and the Hynet cluster is based around NW England and N Wales. The Scottish based Acorn cluster, centred on Peterhead, is on track 2.

The thing I do not understand, is what are these companies going to sell and to whom? The government needs to provide cast iron assurances that beyond squandering £20billion of our hard-earned cash, that there will be no further costs to the public. Perhaps local MP Andrew Bowie can explain how this enterprise, that produces nothing of value, is going to be financed.

Pumping CO2 into mature oil fields and not producing the oil that will be mobilised is pure madness and irresponsible at a time when energy security is high on the national agenda. CCS with EOR has the promise to provide a vibrant self-funding industry. Why spend £20 billion on an aspiration that produces nothing when you can spend nothing and produce a lot more oil from the North Sea?

Dr Euan Mearns


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