A dispute threatens the climate goals in Britain… A trade-off between carbon sequestration and offshore wind farms

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Over the past few years, the United Kingdom has introduced many initiatives to ensure achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, but Britain’s climate goals face many challenges.

The last of these obstacles was the emergence of a conflict between the British oil companies BP and the Danish Ørsted over the North Sea.

The British oil giant BP is planning to build a huge carbon capture project at the bottom of the North Sea, a project that is critical to achieving Britain’s climate goals and reducing emissions, according to what was monitored by the specialized platform, quoting Reuters.

Meanwhile, Danish energy giant Ørsted intends to build a massive offshore wind farm, to help the country meet Britain’s climate targets, the first of which is renewable energy targets.

The problem is the double impoundment of the seabed, which means that there is only room for developing one project and abandoning one of them.

The dispute between the two companies

Britain granted initial licenses to both proposed projects more than a decade ago, and at the time the overlapping of some 110 square kilometers of the sea floor was not seen as an insurmountable problem for either technology.

Endurance Carbon Capture and Storage Project. Photo courtesy of NetZero Teesside

However, a dispute is gradually unfolding between British oil companies BP and Ørsted over the primacy of the ‘interference zone’ shared by the Hornsey Four wind farm and the Endurance CCS sites off Yorkshire.

Studies highlighting the collision hazards of boats used to monitor carbon seepage from seabed wind turbines have fueled the impasse.

In 2022, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which is responsible for regulating offshore energy activities, concluded that these projects could not be crossed using current technologies.

At the time these licenses were granted, it was not clear how the emerging technologies would develop, the Crown Estate said, referring to licenses for wind farms and carbon capture and storage projects awarded by the government in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

British oil company BP is unwilling to use a more expensive control system without boats, and Denmark’s Ørsted refuses to give up the area, both believing that doing so would hurt their business prospects.

Climate goals

In this sense, the dispute appears to threaten to undermine Britain’s climate goals, with the Endurance project alone representing at least half the country’s target of capturing 20-30m tonnes of carbon dioxide per year by 2030.

Geologist, director of the Center for Energy Transition at the University of Aberdeen, John Underhill, explained that settling the dispute between renewable energy technologies and having fair legal procedures that determine whether wind farms, carbon storage projects or other energy sources have priority in the overlap area; It is crucial if the UK hopes to achieve carbon neutrality.

Experts said the stand-off between Orsted and British oil company BP could herald similar disputes elsewhere in the North Sea.

They see Britain’s east coast – which has geological formations favorable for carbon storage and shallow waters for stationary turbine projects – will be a major battleground for competing green technologies in the coming years.

The two companies have previously confirmed their commitment to finding a solution to the dispute, which may reach a critical stage in the coming months.

The British authorities are set to determine whether to give the Hornsey Fore project the final green light on February 22 (2023), while the British oil company and its partners plan to make a final investment decision on Endurance during the current year (2023).

It seems that not only Britain’s climate goals are at stake, but there are also huge investments contingent on these projects.

Oersted estimated the cost of the wind farm at £8 billion ($9.9 billion), while the British oil company did not provide an estimate for the cost of its project.

(GBP = 1.23 USD)

British government recognition

The government has laid out an ambitious plan for Britain’s climate targets aimed at deploying carbon capture and storage technologies and offshore wind farms, both of which are key to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, the Department for Business, Energy and Industry said when asked how two such projects could end up in the same region. .

“We recognize that there may be technical challenges to coexistence in some cases,” she added.

The authorities launched an offshore wind and carbon storage forum in 2021 for regulators and industry sectors in an effort to coordinate and resolve disputes.

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British oil company BP, Ørsted and the Crown Estate have discussed coexistence solutions for several years, but do not mention how their views have changed over the past decade regarding the risks of interpenetration of technologies.

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Hornsey Four Project – Photo courtesy of the Oersted Company website

Orsted’s planning document – published by the authorities on January 17 (2023) – included a report from a group representing British oil company BP and the North Endurance Partnership project partners.

The report stated that the carbon capture and storage program excludes the participation of the region.

The Net Zero Teesside project report dated July (2022) stated that the two projects were expected to be developed in the overlap area, but BP and its partners found it difficult to achieve this throughout the region.

In order to start carbon injection into the project by 2026, BP has expressed doubts that a compromise can be reached in time, as it needs assurance on the fate of the region.

While Oersted stated that the sporadic turbines that could reduce the boating problem would reduce the company’s annual electricity production by 2.5%, thus the project would become less competitive in the market.

The wind power project’s planned capacity of 2.6 GW will help the country achieve its goal of increasing offshore wind capacity from 11 GW in 2021 to 50 GW by 2030.

These efforts require huge investments in new marine infrastructure for the North Sea.

Talks continue despite obstacles

During the current discussions, BP has stated that it is committed to a mutually acceptable solution, while Denmark’s Ørsted has expressed confidence that an agreement can be reached to allow development of both projects.

Regulators and industry experts believe there is hope for wind power and carbon capture and storage projects shared by the region.

The North Sea Transitional Authority (NSTA) stressed that advances in technology could change the calculations, adding that alternative methods of monitoring carbon dioxide were still in the development stages or were too expensive, leading to increased costs to the industry without realizing profits.

The “ocean floor nodes” technology can carry out the tasks of seismic data boats, and the technology is a seismometer located on the sea floor, and can be applied to a depth of thousands of meters.

However, the agency’s chief geophysicist, Ronnie Barr, said that while the costs of this technology are expected to come down, it is likely to cost 3 or 4 times the cost of using boats.

For his part, John Underhill, director of the Center for Energy Transition at the University of Aberdeen, geologist, stressed the need to develop sites for carbon capture and storage to support climate goals in Britain, but there are no signs of a breakthrough to resolve the crisis between the two companies, and it is likely that the same problem will appear elsewhere.

There are other similar problems with the planned Acorn Carbon project off Scotland, which overlaps with the Maram Wind offshore wind farm.

Shell and Scotch Power Renewables, which secured initial rights to develop the wind farm a year ago, said they were in discussions with Acorn.

Shell, also a developer in Acorn, added that both projects were at an early stage and that the overlap was not widespread.

Underhill noted that the Becquerel gas field is a potential site for future carbon capture and storage, but current plans to build an Outer Dowsing wind farm could face similar hurdles.

According to wind farm project manager David Feu, development of the project is on track to supply 1.6 million homes with electricity by the end of the decade.

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