Carbon dioxide capture plans could add £60bn to UK coffers

EU considers £1bn fund to set up plants to use greenhouse gas to help recover North Sea oil

The EU is to spend more than £1bn on helping Britain capture and get rid of carbon dioxide – a move which could extend the productive life of North Sea oilfields to 50 years and raise £60bn in tax revenues.

A new study by Durham University academics estimates that the extra tax revenues will be raised by the UK Treasury if carbon capture is adopted by North Sea oil companies. Professor Jon Gluyas, the director of Durham University's Centre for Research into Earth Energy Systems, carried out the study, Evaluation of the enhancement of North Sea oil recovery using carbon dioxide. This is now being considered by both the UK's Department of Energy and the EU as part of their funding plans for North Sea oil regeneration.

Brussels has given British power engineering companies until February to come up with plants that will take CO2 produced by factories and power stations and transport it, via pipelines, out to depleted oil or gas fields in the North Sea.

Professor Gluyas said: "The extra three billion barrels of oil which could be recovered from them could power, heat and transport the UK for two years with every other form of energy switched off. It would add around £60bn in revenue to the Treasury."

Industry sources say that EU financial backing could be worth at least £400m for each of four CO2 capture plants that the Government is seeking to build. David Hanstock, the commercial director of Progressive Energy, which has been working on plans for capturing CO2 in the northeast of England and to increase North Sea oil production for 10 years, said: "It is a red letter day. We're excited and optimistic that the EU commission could offer the funding to allow these plans to come to fruition," he said. "There is increasing interest among North Sea operators that the technique could significantly enhance the value of North Sea fields, extend their lives and the jobs in them."

Professor Gluyas added: "By putting CO2 in and producing oil the net contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere is around zero. Some in the US call this 'green oil', since there is little or zero net emission."

CO2 is now being used to recover hundreds of millions of barrels of oil that would have otherwise been wasted in both the US and Canada, according to Professor Gluyas, who has worked in the oil industry for 28 years at BP, Monument and Lasmo before being recruited to Durham a year ago.

The oil recovery-enhancing technology is not new. "Back in 2003, BP built a pipeline from west of Shetland to take methane from where it was of no use to the North Sea, where it has been used to improve recovery from the Magnus Field," he said. "BP had the methane available and did not wish to burn or vent it. But CO2 is much better for enhancing oil recovering than methane."

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