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Oil refinery

Lessons 15 years on: Commercialising offshore carbon storage

‘Every degree matters’ in the words of the Committee on Climate Change. Developing carbon capture and storage is back on the agenda after withdrawal of UK funding in 2015.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) separates the CO2 produced by industry, compresses it for transportation, and permanently stores it in rock formations. It prevents carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change. CCS is the only viable near-term solution to decarbonise many industrial processes that rely on fossil fuels. It is also a clear option for low-carbon power, certainly in the short- to mid-term. A clean-energy future is a distant vision, be that from renewable or hydrogen sources. There’s enormous potential for a nascent CCS offshore industry to bridge the gap in between.

We have the know-how needed

CCS is a proven technology which is already used for gas processing and for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in over 50 large-scale facilities operating worldwide (Global CCS Institute, 2019). At the moment, CCS is the only technology that can help reduce emissions from large industrial installations and according to the London School of Economics (What is carbon capture and storage and what role can it play in tackling climate change, 2018) it could be an essential technology for tackling global climate change. Many scientists and policymakers argue that this is essential if we are to limit the increasing temperatures and to meet the UK’s target of net zero emissions by 2050. The Global CCS Institute estimates that 2500 CCS facilities would need to be in operation by 2040 worldwide, each capturing around 1.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year to achieve targets set by the Paris Agreement and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Oil and Gas industry has the solutions to capture, transport and store CO2, whether that’s injecting it into old hydrocarbon fields or saline aquifers; large salt-water rock reservoirs, located underground on land or beneath the seabed. While there has been resistance to using land sites for storing emissions – certainly in a densely populated UK and Europe – offshore opens up greater opportunities. The upstream industry also has considerable technical expertise which is ready to be redeployed. This is essentially oil and gas extraction in reverse, with some modifications and new infrastructure.

At Lloyd’s Register, we’ve seen the potential of CCS for more than 15 years, across over 80 programmes in the UK, Europe and globally. Our recent study for the Oil and Gas Authority, UKCS Energy Integration project, explored the technical solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions including the well-established technology of CCS. Our focus was on the compression, transportation and storage, rather than the CO2 capture and showed that CCS is important in improving the economics of a number of UK power projects and presents a highly attractive option for storage within saline aquifers, potentially for hundreds of years. Additionally, they can offer capex savings by reusing oil and gas infrastructure, yet transportation and storage costs vary significantly across the UKCS, based on store size, distance from shore and ability to reuse infrastructure.

Secure containment is vital from day one

If the use of CCS is to expand, it will be important to ensure that if CO2 is to be stored in depleted offshore gas fields, existing wells will need to be sealed securely. Selected storage sites can make use of sophisticated multiple-trap designs for robust, long-term integrity and even where saline aquifers are chosen, monitoring, measurement and verification will need to meet the most stringent standards – standards that Lloyds’s Register is helping to define and audit.

Universal carbon pricing is essential

The transportation and storage of CO2 is expensive due to high deployment and energy costs. A plant with CCS uses more fuel than one without to extract, pump and compress the C02 and is a costly process for the operator, especially when achieving it offshore, before adding the expense of carbon capture at source. While some gas pipelines can be reused, extending their lifespan by decades in many cases, it does mean that new unmanned assets will often be required. And when reusing wells, these will need to be converted for injection purposes.

Government support will be essential, but CCS is more than simply costly. It is an additional expense – a ‘penalty’ at present – for a power station or industrial plant wishing to do the right thing for the environment. While, for example, UK operators work towards a net-zero carbon emissions pledge by 2050, the world should consider a universal carbon pricing mechanism, which will be vital if CCS is to progress at the pace required in the UK and internationally to make a difference. It is change needed sooner, rather than later.

EOR may be a driver

Enhanced oil recovery should not be overlooked in commercialising CCS. This is where many early projects have focussed, and an area of study in the recent Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) report on Energy Integration. While there is sufficient capacity to store gigatons of CO2 on the UK Continental Shelf, for CCS to play a crucial role in achieving the UK’s net-zero target, starting small is surely the way to go. Initial projects that pin success on minimal viable development look most promising.

Lloyd's Register secured two major UKCS projects with the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) for the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), for the provision of Regional Exploration Maps and Regional and Field Support Engineering Services to help the OGA independently assess remaining undiscovered resources and improve geotechnical understanding. Read full details of the project win. 

This is article four in a series of posts dedicated to our project for the OGA. Read the previous article.

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