More action, less gas

The researchers at Heriot-Watt’s Institute of Petroleum Engineering featured in our news story will no doubt be pleased to know they are on Gordon Brown’s radar.


Not personally of course. Even the most detail-obsessed chancellor can hardly be expected to know the ins and outs of a project to stop carbon dioxide emissions from leaking once they have been piped into deep geological storage.


But the work underway at Heriot-Watt chimes with the chancellor’s newly-launched consultation on the possible barriers to carbon capture and storage (CCS) entering widespread use.


Those barriers may be technological, but are just as likely to be commercial or connected with overall energy and environmental policy objectives.


There is also the international dimension. The UK is currently talking to Norway in a bid to develop a common framework for CO2 storage beneath the North Sea. (How things change. Thirty years ago we were talking to the Norwegians about getting oil out of the North Sea. Now we’re talking to them about putting its by-products back in.)


The issues surrounding CCS are likely to become more familiar as we enter what could loosely be described as the age of enviro- economics. As demand grows for ever-more effective environmental technologies, a number of questions naturally follow.


Who will pay for their development? How effective are they compared to rival technologies? What is the acceptable balance between demanding that businesses display environmental responsibility and imposing crippling burdens on them?


All these will have to be sorted out. The government is right to consult over these issues, but cannot let it end with consultation. These are, we are reminded by the leading lights of all main political parties, matters of fundamental national importance — even national or global survival.


We also know, however, that they are global issues. Never mind Norway, what are we to make of the vast new industrial bases of Asia or Central South America, each with the potential to be vast new polluters, but also the potential to be major new customers of the types of environmental technologies developed here in the UK.


With environmental technology, we are seeing nothing short of the birth of a whole new industrial sector in its own right, but one with significant differences to that of the car, the aircraft or the PC.


This sector brings the work of technological innovators into the realm of peace treaties, arms races and trade agreements. High stakes stuff, but at least the likes of Heriot-Watt are making a start.


Andrew Lee, editor