10 October 2013

S4M-07974 Carbon Capture and Storage

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-07974, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on carbon capture and storage.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

As the constituency member for the area in which Peterhead power station is based, I have a particular and long-term interest in the Peterhead project. It is disappointing that previous attempts to move ahead with carbon capture at Peterhead have come to naught, but we look forward with optimism to where we are now going.

A number of people, including the minister, have referred to Professor Stuart Haszeldine and it is worth quoting what he says:

“The Peterhead carbon capture and storage project is a visionary opportunity for Scotland and the UK—it is the first step towards opening up the North Sea as a global hub for the carbon storage industry, and will bring investment and long-term growth to the region.”

I cannot disagree with a single word.

We should not imagine, of course, that there are no carbon capture and storage projects around the world. There is one in Inner Mongolia and several others in China, and there are some in Canada and the United States. There is a lignite-based one in Poland.

What makes Peterhead unique is that there is as yet no gas-based carbon capture and storage project in operation. For Peterhead, that is a key opportunity. In the context—whatever we may feel about it—of an increased focus on gas extraction by unconventional means in many other countries—possibly in Scotland but probably not—there will be a bigger market for the technologies related to carbon capture and storage from gas plants.

We have particular advantages in Scotland and at Peterhead. At Peterhead, you are within spitting distance, near enough—approximately 4 or 5km—of the St Fergus terminal, where the carbon dioxide from Peterhead will be transported, liquefied, purified and pumped out over existing pipelines to now unused oilfields in the North Sea. The infrastructure is in place. With a pipeline from St Fergus all the way down to Mossmorran in Fife, the connection between Longannet and that pipeline, or that route, is not a huge technical challenge. It is of a different character and I will not say a great deal about that.

Pumping the CO2 into subsea reservoirs addresses several issues. First, it gives us a new way to exploit an asset that we have. Yes, it enables us to get more oil out of the oilfields, and in North America there exists a carbon capture and storage system that is designed to repressurise a field and extract more oil. We know that that works. However, oil is not simply something to put into our cars and buses for transport. It will in the long term be of continuing importance as a feedstock for our chemical industries, long after we have found the technologies to move totally away from it in the transport network. It is important that we get more oil out of our fields.

The £1 billion of Government money that we believe is required to start this industry on its road to success is much less than the tax take that there will be from repressurising oilfields to get more oil out. With the tax on that you will get your money back. Of course you have to pay now and get the benefit later and there are challenges in that. In China, there are six carbon capture projects already working. Interestingly, they are in a range of areas; there are projects either already running or being planned in the thermal, coal, chemical, cement and steel sectors, but not in gas. The opportunity is there for us.

We have a network of pipes throughout the North Sea, which means that we will be able to take CO2, and carbonic acid from a range of countries. Public opinion in Poland, for example, is not very keen on the idea of storing the CO2 under a place where people stay. I happen to think that the evidence for that is not particularly material, but we can solve that problem for the Poles by taking the CO2 away and storing it under the sea.

We have unique advantages in that we have a well-understood geology, and we know where all the holes that have been drilled into that geology are because we have good records from the exploitation of the oilfields. We have a good network of pipes. They are the biggest risk to releasing CO2, but we understand the pipes and we understand the valve technology. We have lots of companies that have worked in this industry.

By the way, in China, CO2 from carbon capture is even being used in the food industry, in baking and the making of fizzy drinks.

One of the most exciting things that might come and that plays to Scotland’s strength in the bio sector is that, in Australia, there are algal synthesis facilities in which CO2 from carbon capture is used to feed algae to produce fuel. There is therefore a series of opportunities. We are taking just the first steps, and there is a huge opportunity that will extend to many different areas.

Many jobs in my constituency and across Scotland are in the bio sector. There is more oil than we can afford to burn, but we need it for other purposes. I have stood on the top of the pile at Torness, and nuclear has no fear for me but, on the other hand, nobody will commercially pick up the whole-life risk for nuclear. In carbon capture, we have a good prospect of commercial success whereas, after decades, nuclear remains entirely unproven.


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