SCOTLAND could become a powerhouse in the global carbon capture and storage (CCS) business with hundreds of jobs in prospect in coming years, a key player in the emerging industry has said.

Oil and gas heavyweight Nick Cooper leads the Storrega Geotechnoolgies business which acquired control of the pioneering Acorn CCS scheme in Scotland with the backing of deep-pocketed international investors.

Acorn has been held up as a model for a technology that could be deployed on a massive scale around the world to help tackle climate change.

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Developed initially by a small business based in Banchory working with giants such as Shell, Acorn will involve pumping carbon dioxide offshore for storage in depleted North Sea fields.

The expectation is that the facilities could be used to handle emissions from industries across Scotland and to support the development of clean hydrogen fuel.

While there are other CCS projects under development on the Humber and Merseyside, Mr Cooper thinks Acorn has huge advantages.

As well as storage sites offshore, these include a processing plant at St Fergus on the Aberdeenshire coast. This is linked to pipelines that take gas from the North Sea and transport it across the Central Belt and south of the border. A deepwater port at Peterhead could be used to ship in carbon dioxide from across Europe.

“So you can move fast. It should be the first of the UK projects to be operational and you can move at scale,” notes Mr Cooper.

Having worked on big oil and gas developments around the world, Mr Cooper is confident the nature of the North Sea basin confers huge advantages on countries in the vicinity.

“The UK and Norway will probably be the dominant players for CCS in Europe. The North Sea is ideal for it; it can be done safely, commercially and at scale.”

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Mr Cooper is confident any fears people may have about the risks involved in storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide underground are misplaced.

“CCS is using technology that has been used by the oil and gas industry for a hundred years. The industry knows very well how to extract molecules at depth from under the sea and use them and it’s really just a reverse process,” says Mr Cooper, who completed a doctorate in geophysics at the University of Leicester before entering the oil industry with the former BG group in 1993.

He is also sure that sceptics who question the economics of CCS will be proved wrong.

The big argument against making the hefty investment required to develop CCS schemes is that there are currently no real commercial incentives for many firms to use them. If you don’t have to pay to emit carbon dioxide why pay someone to take it off your hands?

In the flagship North Sea Transition Deal announced in March, the UK Government undertook to “design and implement a business model to provide revenue support and improve companies’ confidence for investing in carbon capture solutions”. It will aim to finalise a new commercial framework by 2022.

Th expectation is that this will be linked to developments on the carbon pricing front in the UK, which will change the economics of CCS.

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“The stars don’t quite align now but realistically over the three-to-four year period to build this stuff they are expected to align and be very positive to using CCS from the middle of the decade,” says Mr Cooper.

The Acorn project passed a landmark on Friday when Shell and the North Sea-focused Harbour Energy oil and gas business became equal partners with Storrega. The firms said they expect Acorn  to be operational in the mid-2020s, “providing a clear pathway to help Scotland and the UK to meet their net zero targets”. Shell and the Harbour-owned Chrysaor have been involved with Acorn since the early days.

Storrega is backed by Australian investment bank Macquarie, the Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Japanese industrial giant Mitsui. The investors have their eyes on a global market.

“To be useful carbon storage needs at least 2,000 Acorn-type projects around the world,” reckons Mr Cooper. He sees potential to develop a template with Acorn that could be used in many countries.

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Scotland could reap huge benefits.

“If you look at the facilities we are building it will be at least hundreds of jobs if not more, if you think about the offshore storage as an enabler,” says Mr Cooper.

“It will allow both existing jobs to be assured because the employers will be decarbonising but it will also facilitate new technologies and industries, not just in carbon capture and storage but in the utilisation of carbon.”

Noting that oil and gas knowledge gained in the North Sea was exported from the 70s around the world, Mr Cooper notes: “Scotland is ideally placed to do exactly that with this new wave of green low and zero carbon stuff that’s going to be built.”

Mr Cooper travelled the world during a successful oil and gas career before deciding to look at whether skills developed in the industry could be deployed in the effort to tackle the threat of climate change.

He used them to help develop Bedlam Brewery in Sussex, where he lives. As a father of three teenage daughters, Mr Cooper is pleased to be leading a venture he thinks could have a lasting impact on the environmental front at Storrega.


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

The West Coast of Scotland is hard to beat in late Spring. I’ve been really lucky to have travelled a lot with work and for pleasure. Personal favourites would be: India and Pakistan (for the people and mountains) ; Tanzania (for the people, wildlife and coastline) ; Patagonia (for the wilderness and space) ; Indonesia (which has just about everything) ; Singapore (for the best food in the world).

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

An explorer of some sort: when I was a kid we didn’t have the means to travel abroad as a family, so I dreamed of heading overseas and seeing what was out there.

What was your biggest break in business?

Co-founding our first company (Salamander Energy): hair-raising but a huge sense of freedom and potential.

What was your worst moment in business?

There have been a few. Anyone that can’t admit that is daft or delusional. Probably the most existential was the day (around 5 years ago) that I realised that priorities had to fundamentally shift overnight, that climate change was paramount and that I was at that time working in an industry that needed to rapidly re-invent itself to address the challenge. Cheap, plentiful energy provision was no longer the societal objective; addressing climate change was the imperative.

Who do you most admire and why?

People with humility and a good sense of humour that are good at what they do.

What book are you reading and what music are you listening to? What was the last film you saw?

Best recent non-fiction book: ‘Doughnut Economics’ ; best recent fictional book: ‘The Ministry for the Future’.

Music: I’m ancient and am still listening to Radiohead, REM and the Killers but my teenage daughters are trying to update me with The Weekend and Ben Howard.

Last film I saw was ‘I Care a Lot’ (oh and of course ‘Groundhog Day’).