THE man who is leading Royal Dutch Shell's pioneering project to store carbon dioxide produced at Peterhead power station under the North Sea has said locals seem to be excited about the plan as he underlined the oil and gas giant's confidence in the technology's potential.
Bill Spence said he was very encouraged by the response the company has had in the north-east town after completing the latest stage in consultations about the scheme to develop a carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility at Peterhead.
This is expected to send up to 10 million tonnes of the carbon dioxide that is a by-product of the power generation operations at Peterhead for storage in a depleted reservoir on the Goldeneye facility about 60 miles offshore.
Shell says the plant would be the first at full scale in the world to capture and store carbon produced by a gas-fired power station. Backers believe it will help reduce emissions from power generation at the Peterhead generator, operated by Scottish HyrdoElectric owner SSE, by 90 per cent. Shell is currently drawing up detailed engineering plans for the CCS plant, which it hopes will start operating in 2020.
As the technology has not been used in this way before, the project might be expected to spark fears about possible safety and environmental risks.
However, speaking after helping show about 100 people around the Peterhead plant on Tuesday, Mr Spence said: "We haven't had that at all - one of the real strengths with the Peterhead project and working in the north-east is that the community here is accustomed to seeing the oil and gas industry, is accustomed to oil and gas practice.
"The local industry knowledge has really helped us here. We haven't seen the resistance, we have seen people see the opportunity side of the project. They don't see the risk side and they are very excited about this being a world first."
Mr Spence added: " We do get questions about the operation of the plant, and when they become conversant with how it works what we make very clear is that each step of this plant is a proven technology and what we are doing is putting them all together back to back for the first time here for the Peterhead project. They become very comfortable with how it all works."
The 52-year-old engineer admitted, however, that some people have asked questions about possible disruption during the 30 months construction of the plant is expected to take. This will involve building facilities inside the Peterhead complex and laying a 12-mile pipeline to take carbon from the plant to the line that connects Goldeneye to the shore.
However, he noted people appear to be more exited about the potential economic benefits the plant will bring than concerned about potential pitfalls.
He said: "It's very much a case of when do we think we will get started, what kind of opportunities will there be, will it be for my generation, the next generation. We see multi generations coming, parents with their children coming to understand and they are looking at this as an opportunity as it goes forward to be in a new industry and to be in employment and to be in at the beginning of something new."
Shell expects an average of 350 people will be employed during the construction phase.
The company thinks 10 to 20 people will work on the operations side during the first phase.
A CCS facility could help underpin the viability of the Peterhead plant by reducing emissions.
Shell hopes to win Government backing to run the facility for 10 years under an official project to try to stimulate investment in CCS.
The scheme is one of two projects in the running for official funding. Drax plans to link a CCS facility to a new coal-fired plant in North Yorkshire.
Shell expects to make a final investment decision on whether to build the plant with SSE and the UK Government in 2015. It did not disclose details of expected costs.
Mr Spence believes a successful scheme at Peterhead could pave the way for massive investment in carbon capture and storage in the UK. Noting that the project would only use a small amount of the storage capacity in Goldeneye, he said deplated North Sea fields could be used to store CO2 from many power plants.
"I think the North Sea could be a huge resource," said Mr Spence.
He thinks once people are comfortable that the technology can be used offshore, CCS projects could be developed onshore.
Mr Spence believes CCS offers the only way firms in industries like cement and steel production will be able to meet targets to reduce emissions in future.
With thousands of gas-fired power plants around world, there could be huge demand for the technology overseas.