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All gas and no gaiters

Ted Nield as MCresized.jpgThere was a lot of news around on 25 November – Paris had suffered its bomb attacks on Friday 13, and the aftermath was still filling the bulletins. A Russian jet fighter had been shot down over Turkey.  And Mr Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, presented his Autumn Statement.  The NHS had a nice surprise: many less so.  But nobody noticed a letter entitled ‘HM Government Statement to Markets Regarding Carbon Capture and Storage Competition’ issued by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, released at 14.57.

It was brief:  ‘Today, following the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, HM Government confirms that the £1 billion ring-fenced capital budget for the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Competition is no longer available.  This decision means that the CCS Competition cannot proceed on its current basis.  We will engage closely with the bidders on the implications of this decision for them.’  And that was that.  The competition had been launched in 2012.  This decision to pull the plug came days before the opening ceremonies of the international climate change talks in Paris.

CCS  technology (see Policy Update, p. ??) allows CO2 emissions from large point sources – we’re talking power plants here - captured and injected into underground storage reservoirs – typically, old North Sea gasfields.  This would enable Britain to continue to use coal and gas-fired power stations while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  It was said to be crucial to meeting the UK’s reduction targets.

Two projects still remained in the running: the Peterhead Project (Aberdeenshire) – where Shell and SSE were planning to fit CC technology to an existing gas generator, and Yorkshire’s White Rose Project – a new-build coal-fired power station.  Shell immediately announced they saw no future for the Peterhead project ‘in the near term’.  Backers of White Rose said it was ‘difficult to imagine its continuation in the absence of crucial Government support’.

Luke Warren, CEO of the CCS Association, said: "Today’s announcement that the funding for CCS will be cut is devastating. Only six months ago the Government’s manifesto committed £1 billion of funding for CCS. Moving the goalposts just at the time when a four year competition is about to conclude is an appalling way to do business.”

We can only agree.  CCS offers a chance to bridge the economy to a low-carbon future and offers hydrocarbon companies the chance to use their expertise in a way that helps them to do the same. 

To read more on this, see our second Online Special, this month.

DR TED NIELD, EDITOR , @TedNield @geoscientistmag