A focus on CCS in Norway

Norway has long been the Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) capital of the world, with its Sleipner offshore storage project and strong support for this nascent technology. This week the Norwegian Government put on a High-level Conference in Bergen, “Fighting Climate Change with Carbon Capture and Storage”. It was attended at Ministerial level and featured the likes of Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Frederic Hauge, President of The Bellona Foundation on the podium

Frederic Hauge, President of The Bellona Foundation on the podium



Most of the plenary content was on Thursday, focussing on the potential of CCS, experience with the technology, balancing energy needs with CO2 management globally and the necessary incentives for CCS. I was on the “Incentives” panel and gave a short presentation on that subject (see below).

In his opening remarks, the Norwegian Minister for Petroleum and Energy noted that CCS faced three particular questions, those being:

  1. How do we know the CO2 stays there?
  2. Who will be liable for the storage site in the long term?
  3. How can we be sure that spending money on CCS doesn’t crowd out technologies such as renewables?

I wasn’t quite sure why he asked these as it’s not as if CCS doesn’t face enough challenges. But I think the answers are clear – although he didn’t give them;

  1. At 3 kms below the surface in formations that have long held oil or gas, it just does [stay there]. There isn’t anywhere for the CO2 to go. Norway’s own Sleipner project has been storing one million tonnes of CO2 annually for ten years and there is no sign of it coming back.
  2. At least under the EU CCS Directive, government holds the long term liability, having been handed a closed storage site by the operator which has met a series of checks for permanence.
  3. It won’t – just to meet global energy needs and contain CO2 we are going to need to put lots of effort into all potential energy technologies.

We then heard from John Ashton, the UK Special Representative on Climate Change from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. John made one point abundantly clear – “A lot of coal is going to burned between now and the end of this century, which means there is no credible climate strategy that does not include CCS in the coal fired power sector.”

He went on to point out that CCS isn’t some distant dream and that the issue today was not a technological one, but a cost discovery problem. Nobody really wants to be the first to do this at scale. He noted that we have had years to do this, but have now left it to the last minute to act – which means the mobilisation effort required is now huge.

He also challenged the audience with the view that if the Copenhagen deal doesn’t include a sizable CCS focus, then it isn’t a deal worth having and negotiators should be sent back to the table. In his view, the current status of CCS in the UNFCCC deliberations, particularly the brick wall it has hit with regards inclusion in the CDM, is “a scandal”.

A lot more was said during the day about progress, the status of funding and potential deployment strategies. What was abundantly clear is that despite the robust call for action from the IPCC, the UK and The Bellona Foundation [a Norwegian NGO heavily behind CCS] things are just not moving fast enough. The showcase of global action (Sleipner, Weyburn in Canada and In-Salah in Algeria) looks no different to the showcase a few years ago. Another “scandal”, given the gravity of the situation.

But maybe things are looking up for CCS. There are some real support packages appearing in the EU, Canada, Australia and the USA and both China and South Africa have promising development programmes – although neither see the rapid roll-out that is actually necessary.

My own presentation focussed on the incentive structures that are needed. In my view we need to find ways of replicating what has happened in the EU where all the necessary pieces of the puzzle are now on the table, i.e.;

  • An underlying price for CO2 must be in place
  • Recognition of the demonstration nature of the technology
    • Clear demonstration objectives in place
    • A timeline for action
    • Funding commensurate with the task at hand
    • A focus on delivery of fewer complete projects, rather than limited funding for many.
  • A robust approach to CO2 storage certification (and MRV) based on 2006 IPCC GHG Inventory Guidelines.