A PIONEERING decarbonisation project in north-east Scotland and one of the North Sea’s biggest oil and gas producers have been boosted by the UK’s first-ever carbon capture licensing round.

The North Sea Transition Authority has awarded 21 licences to 14 companies for carbon capture projects in depleted oil and gas reservoirs and saline aquifers covering an area of 12,000 square kilometres, it was announced yesterday.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) involves capturing emissions from industrial processes such as oil and gas extraction from the atmosphere, compressing it into a liquid state, and transporting it by pipeline, ships, or tanks by road or rail to be stored underground.

Two licences have been awarded to the Acorn CCS project in Aberdeenshire, which is using legacy oil and gas infrastructure to transport captured emissions by 200km to permanent storage 2.5km (1.5 miles) under the North Sea.

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The licences granted for the Acorn East and East Mey carbon dioxide (CO2) stores will expand the capacity of its carbon storage capacity beneath the North Sea to around 240 mega-tonnes (Mt).

The awards come shortly after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made Acorn one of four carbon capture, usage, and storage clusters across the UK, which are expected to deliver storage for 20 to 30 Mt of CO2 per year by 2030.

Acorn will provide the transport and storage network for the Scottish Cluster, a group of carbon-emitting sources in the north-east of Scotland including the St Fergus gas complex.

A spokesperson for Acorn said: “These extensive areas of subsea acreage are key elements in Acorn’s long-term strategy. The North Sea Transition Authority’s award of these carbon storage licences is welcome news, as we continue to respond to Government’s Track-2 process.

“Acorn’s stores, 2.5km below the seabed some 100km north-east of Peterhead on the Aberdeenshire coastline, have the potential to store c.240 million tonnes of CO2.”

North Sea-focused Harbour Energy, which is one of the four partners in the Acorn project alongside Storegga, Shell, and North Sea Midstream Partners, has been awarded four carbon storage licences.

Harbour, the operator of the Humber-based Viking CCS CO2 transportation and storage network, and non-operating partner BP have secured two licences adjacent to and to the west of the existing Viking CCS carbon storage licence in the Southern North Sea. Early estimates indicate that the additional licences have the potential to increase the total storage capacity by Viking by more than 50%.

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Harbour also welcomed the new licences for the Acorn project, in which it holds a 30% non-operated interest. Acorn CCS is operated by lead developer Storegga.

Steve Cox, executive vice president of net zero at Harbour, said: “The award of these new licences is another important step forward to help scale up our carbon capture, transportation and storage plans in the UK, and another demonstration of the valuable role the oil and gas sector can bring to the development of this nascent industry.

“The potential for additional storage capacity could play a vital role in supporting the UK to meet its net zero goals while also creating thousands of skilled British jobs.”

The North Sea Transition Authority said the locations earmarked for the 21 carbon storage licences could store up to 30 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. It said this equates to around 10% of UK annual emissions, which totalled 341.5 million tonnes in 2021.

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Shell, Perenco, and ENI have all been awarded licences off the coast of Norfolk in sites which could form part of the Bacton Energy Hub, a carbon capture, hydrogen, and offshore wind project which the authority said could provide low-carbon energy for London and the South-east for decades and boost the drive to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

Stuart Payne, chief executive of the North Sea Transition Authority, said: “Carbon storage will play a crucial role in the energy transition, storing carbon dioxide deep under the seabed and playing a key role in hydrogen production and energy hubs.

"It is exciting to award these licences and our teams will support the licensees to bring about first injection of carbon dioxide as soon as possible. We will also continue to work with industry and government to enable further licensing activity and back the UK’s drive to net zero emissions.”