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UK carbon capture project unites biggest energy firms

Some of the world’s biggest energy companies have come together to develop a huge carbon capture facility in Teesside, north England. Is this finally a genuine shift in attitudes towards climate change?

BP and Shell, two names seldom associated with sustainability (to put it kindly), are part of a newly formed cohort of energy giants working on widescale carbon capture projects.

Climate advisers have stated that finding ways to pull existing emissions from our atmosphere is key to achieving net zero goals, but harbour no guilt for being sceptical about the motivations of those stepping up here.

Dubbed the East Coast Cluster, a newly formed group of the biggest names in oil including BP, Shell, Equinor, SSE, Drax, and National Grid has submitted an application to develop a massive green tech venture spanning from Humber to Teesside. Can you smell that?

The multibillion-pound idea is to create a storing ground for heavy industry and power stations to safely dispose of their carbon emissions. In theory, the bulk load of these pollutants will end up in sediment 2km below the North Sea, with the rest being utilised in decarbonising power, and the green production of hydrogen and steel.

Think of an underground network of pipes all stemming from one huge carbon supply feeding industries across the land. That’s where the phrase ‘cluster’ comes from. The diagram below will provide more context.

Credit: Times Business

Andy Lane, managing director at BP, believes this UK facility could be capturing and storing emissions by late 2026 – subject to a final financial backing round in 2023 – and may provide a blueprint for carbon clusters across the rest of the world.

Costs to build offshore infrastructure for BP’s subsidiary, the Northern Endurance Partnership are estimated around £1-2bn, but will theoretically be able to decarbonise ‘the biggest carbon emitters in the country,’ and ‘every type of emitter you can think of.’

You’re probably thinking at this stage that there has to be some kind of ulterior motive here. Surely a troop of the world’s largest super polluters aren’t suddenly pushing eco-initiatives out of their good of their own hearts? Don’t worry, the case wasn’t exactly hard to crack.

Along with these ambitions to ‘revolutionise’ carbon capture, the East Coast Cluster plans to charge big bucks for companies to store and make use of carbon emissions.

Aiming to replicate the same utility model of today’s gas networks, BP chief executive Bernard Looney stated that carbon is a ‘different risk equation [to gas] and therefore probably has to be a slightly different reward equation.’

‘It’ll be a higher utility return, and probably more in the 8-10% bracket,’ he said. That’s your real motivation right there.

A growing emphasis on renewable energy in 2020 combined with nationwide lockdowns, means the implied price of carbon currently resides around a hefty $1,400 per ton. Suffice to say, there is serious money to be made by these corporations.

It is difficult to put cynicism aside here. Looking at the nefarious history of Shell alone, the company is responsible for 1% of global emissions and was the 9th biggest polluter globally for over 25 years.

Combined, the respective footprints of East Coast Cluster members would make for truly horrific viewing.

Hopefully legal pressure is telling, and we’re now seeing the beginning of a drastic change of values. To be honest though, we aren’t holding our breath.


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