UK seeks co-operation on CO2

In Britain, the current minister of environmental affairs, Elliot Morley, has asked for support for the country’s plans to store CO2 in the sediments at the bottom of the North Sea. Morley issued the proposal during a meeting in the London-convention last week.

Throughout last week, governmental representatives from several nations conducted meetings to discuss different issues involve in the proposal, one of which is the question of capture and deployment of CO2. According to the current agreements as presented in the London-convention protocol from 1996, and the OSPAR-convention, clean capture and storage of CO2 is not legal, at least not so long as it is considered “dumping”. However, CO2 sequestration as a means of extracting more oil—the EOR method—and storage of the CO2 as part of the production process, is alowed.

New Approach
Capture and storage of CO2 was discussed during last weeks meetings of the London-convention. One of the issues under scrutiny is how the storage of CO2 relates to the ban on dumping from 1996, explains Per W. Schive, department manager at the Norwegian Ministry of Environmental affairs.

CO2-capture and deployment has for a long period of time been legal fodder for lawyers associated with the OSPAR-commission. Now, however, one is willing to seek a different approach on the issue, said Schive. He pointed to the fact that it’s not the lawyers who make the final decision on the matter, but that it is important to allow different factions to comment on the total environmental impact of CO2-storage under the ocean.

OSPAR, like the London-convention, is an international agreement to counter the pollution of the marine environment. But in contrast to the London-convention, which is international, OSPAR is effective only in the Northeast of the Atlantic Ocean.

Precautionary measures
In addition to regulating the dumping of different kinds of waste at sea, the OSPAR-convention also protects the sea and the ocean floor. The deployment of CO2 in geological formations under the ocean floor—for example in old oil reservoirs—are issues that need to be cleared within the convention before new projects can be started. The question of CO2-storage was issued at the OSPAR-commission meeting in 2002. This culminated in a report made by OSPAR’s legal team on May 18th this year. The report underlined that the boundaries of what’s legal depends on whether the method implies “pollution” and thus falls under the principal rule of precautionary measures, and what the goal of the storage is (scientific, oil/gas production, and so on).
EOR is allowed under OSPAR. As is storage in the deep as part of the production process. There is no need for changes to be made in the convention to use these techniques. Experience shows that OSPAR usually is in the lead of this kind of work, and that the conclusions made there will be added to the London Convention as well, said Schive.

Bellona opinion
Even though this seems like a paradox, it looks like the agreements crafted to protect the environment might delay the development of good methods of CO2-deployment as a climate gas-reducing measure. This is not acceptable, and Bellona is glad to hear that we are now approaching this from a different angle than the purely juridical one, says Beate Kristiansen, leader of Bellonas work on energy issues.

Bellona is one of the organisations that wants its comments on OSPAR to be heard, working with a focus on safety, the total environmental effect of deployment, as well as the local effects on the marine environment.

Measures taken so far
In Britain, Environmental Minister Morley told the The Independent, the first priority of the government is to reduce the emissions of climate gases, but that storage of CO2 is acknowledged as a intermediate measure.

“If we are to expand our work on this alternative, we need international effort, especially to make sure that the safety issues are taken care of with regard to the marine environment,” said Morley.

If other government approves of the plans as well, Morley wishes to create several working groups to estimate how realistic such a plan is, as well as how the project can be made secure.

If Morley manages to start this project, it is possible that Britain can store masses of CO2 equal to the country’s emissions for 100 years in the North Sea alone.

Ambitious climate plans
In February 2003, the British government issued its ambitious plan to reduce national emissions by 60 percent by 2050. The means issued to make this possible are among other things to double the amount of electricity produced by renewable sources by 2020 in contrast to the 2010 goal of 20 percent. The Government also promised an additional grant of 60 million pounds to projects within renewable energy. In addition, the total amount of money budgeted to renewable energy over the next 4 years has been increased to 348 million pounds.

In August this year, the British Minister of Energy Stephen Timms said that the plans for deployment can be realized by 2020, and that the best spots for this storage are in the used oil- and gas reservoirs in the North Sea. Timms also said that Britain cannot overlook CO2-deployment if the government plans to reach the climate goals of the nation.

Hanne Bakke

Eivind Trædal