North Sea can be Europe’s CCUS epicentre, says report

A new report has found that the North Sea can provide the bulk of Europe’s CCUS needs over the coming decades, with around 100 sites required by 2050.

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Published by energy consultancy Xodus, the report assessed 560 potential storage sites in the North Sea basin, as well as existing gas pipelines and potential new infrastructure required to service predicted CCUS demand. In the decade ahead, it forecasts that up to 100 per cent of European CCUS projects will be ‘anchored in the North Sea’.

As the market matures, Xodus believes this share will drop, though it still expects the basin to account for 60 per cent of Europe’s predicted 500 megatonnes per annum (MTPA) CCUS market in 2050. According to Xodus CEO Steve Swindell, existing oil & gas expertise and infrastructure can also play a significant role in the North Sea’s transition from fossil fuel extraction to carbon sink.

“If we’re to get to net zero in an orderly and timely manner, pioneering technologies like CCUS are a necessity, not an option,” said Swindell. “Fortunately, the North Sea’s world-class oil and gas industry provides the perfect foundation for the rollout of carbon capture, with the potential to repurpose and build around existing infrastructure.

“But the outlook for this crucial technology is somewhat vague with many question marks around timing, volume and prime locations for locking away emissions. Our study analyses many of these uncertainties by examining the infrastructure needed to enable deployment at scale.”

Around 40 per cent of European industrial emissions are located within 500km of the North Sea basin. This makes Europe the only major economic region that has its largest hydrocarbon basin at the heart of its economy, according to Xodus, providing geographic and economic advantage when it comes to CCUS.

The report forecasts that by 2050, the North Sea will provide around 100 CCUS reservoirs, alongside more than 7,500km of new pipelines and dozens of onshore emissions capturing sites. Xodus believes the annual amount of CO2 being injected into the basin will be equivalent to the volume of natural gas being extracted each year from the North Sea today.

“It will require a Herculean effort to deliver CCUS projects at the scale Europe needs, but the enormous benefits of doing so are obvious,” said James McAreavey, head of CCUS at Xodus. “There is the chance to make the most of existing synergies with the offshore oil and gas industry and reuse miles of existing pipelines that may otherwise need to be removed from the North Sea.

“As the transition progresses, it is inevitable that CCUS projects will be competing for seabed area with other low carbon technologies, but that could drive collaboration between industries and lead to the creation of a basin-wide integrated energy system.”

In a report published this week by the IEA, executive director Fatih Birol also highlighted the important role the oil & gas industry can have in CCUS operations. However, he warned that CCUS is not a panacea for the sector, saying that the belief emissions could continue as they are was ‘pure fantasy’.