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What part can the North Sea play to develop CCS ?

« Carbon Capture and Storage » (CCS) is a technology to extract carbon from industrial exhausts, transport it through pipelines, and store it in saline aquifers or depleted hydrocarbon fields. This technology thus allows for a quick and significant reduction of CO2 emissions.


Numerous European countries committed to reducing by 80% their CO2 emissions by 2050, as compared with their level of 1990. To reach this target, it will be necessary to develop CCS along with sufficient storage spaces close to emitting industries, to limit transportation costs. The North Sea, which contains adequate geological sites galore, will have a significant part to play. In that sense, different countries collaborated in conducting studies to determine its storing capacity.

In that context, the first projects were initiated, especially in the UK and in Norway. Most of the projects are in conception phase, but this technology has already been installed in some coal power plants. Let's focus on that promising technology.

The assets of the North Sea

In the 90's, the North Sea was the region where offshore drilling was the most advanced, with more than 450 platforms. In 1999, extraction reached an historic level with a production of close to 6 million barrels of oil (10% of world production) and 280 000 000 m³ of natural gas per day . Today, the extracted volumes are lower, due to the depletion of reserves. Some major oil companies, such as Shell or BP, even stopped their activities there.

However, offshore former geological fields are arousing renewed interests. They could indeed store 145 Gt of CO2 - which represents approximately half of the European storing capacity - in the saline aquifers and the depleted hydrocarbon fields .

The study below approximates the volumes of CO2 captured in 2030 in different countries This was conducted by comparing three scenarios:

These scenarios were designed by the level of deployment of the CCS technology. Thus, a high deployment consists in installing the technology in industrial and energy sectors, and in benefitting from national and European leverage. Medium deployment concerns installation only on power plants and benefiting from reduced leverage. Finally, low deployment limits significantly the installation of the technology.

The results of this study provide the volumes that could be captured in 2030 in the 5 main countries around the North Sea:

The depleted hydrocarbon fields of the North Sea contain enough space to store the capture carbon from the surrounding countries for a few dozen years.The European Union has a target to lower its emission by 20% by 2020, as compared to the level of 1990. Based on the current policies, this appears hardly reachable. In that context, promoting CCS could be the solution. Indeed, for the intermediate scenario, the captured volumes could represent 6% of the current emitted volumes. By 2050, 1,9 Gt of CO2 could be collected and stored. This solely represents 1,3% of the storage capacity of the North Sea.

The storage volume is not the only asset of the North Sea. Transporting the carbon would also be eased by the unused existing piping infrastructure. Transportation costs, which represent 10 to 20% of total CCS costs, would therefore be significantly reduced.

The North Sea benefits from numerous advantages that would easily and cost-effectively allow for the surrounding countries to transport and store their captured carbon. However, it is necessary to priory define the role of the North Sea in the deployment of CCS in Europe.

Collaborations across the North Sea

As soon as 2005, the United-Kingdom and Norway decided to collaborate to build a common strategy over the exploitation of infrastructure and geological caves for carbon transport and storage. The « North Sea Basin Task Force » (NSBTF) was created.

For the UK, the first objective of this partnership will be to be allowed to use Norway's existing pipelines and offshore platforms, more recent than its own, for carbon transportation. This will lead to reduced short-term and mid-term investments in new infrastructures. In the meantime, the UK will ensure maintenance over the infrastructures, thus reducing Norway's costs without penalizing it in terms of transportable volume, as its estimated captured volumes are very low according to all the scenarios . In 2007, this partnership extended to Germany and the Netherlands.

Their entering the program launched deeper studies to know the true potential of carbon storage in the North Sea, through the « One North Sea » project. It lead to a CO2 flow estimation for 2030, using actual locations of storage capacity, power plants and industrial sites, for the highest CCS development scenario.

Carbon flows in 2030 for « High Deployment » scenario

As the highest producers, Germany and the UK will be, unsurprisingly, the countries that capture the most carbon. The UK will store all of its captured volume in offshore sites in the North Sea, while Germany will store half in onshore aquifers.

Since this partnership, the concerned countries are starting to take measures promoting CCS technology. Nevertheless, major differences between them remain:

A complex collaboration

Norway and the UK, the founding countries of NSBTF, are leading the way. Despite this, power plants combined with carbon capture remain very few. In the UK, only two projects are on-going.

According to the « One North Sea » project, all the countries surrounding the North Sea will have to store all or part of their captured CO2 in offshore sites by 2030. This means that carbon will travel cross-border, as described below:

How should responsibility be shared between countries when carbon travels across borders? 2

This transregional logistic will bring numerous questions that NSBTF will have to answer before starting the exploitation of storage sites in the North Sea, especially on infrastructure maintenance and responsibilities in case of CO2 leaks.

A future full of uncertainties

Despite important advantages, the future of storage in the North Sea remains unclear today. Within the surrounding countries, only four are directing studies to lead to common exploitation of infrastructure and geological storage sites.

Belgium, for the moment, is not participating in any conducted project on CO2 storage in the North Sea. A pilot to capture CO2 from industrial exhausts in Antwerp was considered but has been put on hold for now. CCS is not a focus point in the energy debate, although possible storage spaces can be found, both in the Flemish and Walloon region (depleted coal fields).

Moreover, CCS technology currently comes with an additional cost of approximately 100 €/ton of CO2, which is 5 to 10 times above the spot price of CO2. The balance price should be reached in 2030, if the carbon policy remains enforced and if new CCS projects are developed. Despite uncertainties and the international collaboration challenge, the high potential of CCS in the North Sea combined with improved carbon taxation could develop this innovative technology.

Sia Partners

Notes :

Trewin, N. H., Hydrocarbons, 2002

Element Energy. One North Sea, 2010

Element Energy, Pöyry Energy, and British Geological Survey. Development of a CO2 transport and storage network in the north sea, 2007

Rütters, H. and the CGS Europe partners - State of play on CO2 geological storage in 28 European countries, 2013

Element Energy, Pöyry Energy, and British Geological Survey. Development of a CO2 transport and storage network in the north sea, 2007

Rütters, H. and the CGS Europe partners - State of play on CO2 geological storage in 28 European countries, 2013

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