The energy industry of the United Kingdom currently relies quite heavily on the extraction of oil and gas from underneath the North Sea. Following a decision by the UK government, measures could be taken to increase the rate at which these resources are extracted. Despite the fact that gas and oil combustion releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (which contributes to climate change) this decision may actually serve to benefit the environment. A higher extraction rate will increase the amount of money produced from the extraction of North Sea resources. These additional finances will then be used to fund a new carbon capture storage (CCS) facility.
Carbon capture technology is used to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment at sources of combustion, like power plants. Once the greenhouse gas has been extracted from power plant emissions, it is then necessary to store it and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. The plan proposed for this new CCS facility is to transport captured carbon dioxide to the disused Goldeneye gas field in Scotland, where it will be stored underground. This idea could be an important way for the UK’s energy industry to become “greener” in the future.
The plans for upping extraction rates and building a new CCS plant were announced last Monday, when the Wood review for offshore gas and oil was published. The proposal to increase production is hoped to boost cooperation between oil and gas firms. Ian Wood claims that the ideas outlined in his review could allow up to 4 billion extra barrels of oil to be extracted. At current prices, this would be worth £200 billion to the UK. The review, and the proposals it lays out, have received enthusiastic backing from David Cameron.
To some, it may seem counterintuitive to consider an increase in the production of fossil fuels as a way of improving environmental policy. However, according to Myles Allen of the University of Oxford, the long-term effects of additional gas and oil usage are unimportant on a global scale compared to the advantages of new CCS opportunities. “Anything the UK can do to promote CCS is far more important than anything the UK does with its own oil and gas reserves, so more power to the pumps” he said.
Considering the way that most countries plan to continue using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, CCS is likely to play a critical role in bridging the gap between our current energy industries, and truly sustainable ones. Technologies like wind, solar and tidal power are expensive and offer limited amounts of energy. In rapidly developing countries like China and India, continuing industrialisation will inevitably require an increase in their consumption of coal, oil and gas. Replacing these energy needs with renewable sources would be ideal, although it would cost more. CCS might therefore be a more affordable alternative, if it receives enough attention and finds a way of becoming more commercially viable.
The developments proposed for North Sea oil and gas would mark a milestone in Britain’s transitioning energy industry. If other countries come to embrace carbon capture technology as well, it could be the first step to sustainable energy across the globe.
What other measures could the UK take to help prevent climate change?