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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 February 2006, 17:28 GMT
Rocks 'could store all Europe's CO2'
Sleipner platform
The platform injects the CO2 into a honeycomb of rock
The entire carbon dioxide emissions created in Europe could be stored underneath the North Sea if the infrastructure were put in place, a Norwegian company has claimed.

Gas and oil firm Statoil said the undersea aquifer beneath its Sleipner platforms in the North Sea, 200 miles off the Norwegian coast, is capable of permanently holding carbon dioxide (CO2) - a gas linked to climate change.

The Sleipner platform provides methane to countries throughout western mainland Europe and is capable of exporting 20 million cubic metres of gas every day. But it is also the first of a handful of geological sites where CO2 is stored.

"There are calculations which say it could handle all of Europe's CO2 emissions for several hundreds of years," Statoil's Senior Vice President for the Environment Tor Fraeren told BBC World Service's One Planet programme.

"It could all be handled by this reservoir. I hope that during these hundreds of years we could solve the CO2 problem in a more efficient way, but we have the potential here to store it."

Climate scientists generally acknowledge that storing carbon in this way can play a role in combating global warming.

Large costs

The aquifer was developed because the methane gas that passes through the platform is rich in carbon dioxide, most of which has to be removed before the gas could be sold to customers.

Rather than simply vent it to the atmosphere, the platform separates it and then injects it back beneath the sea bed into a natural sandstone aquifer - a honeycomb of rock - about 900m below sea level.

In total, around a million tonnes of carbon dioxide is stored every year.

"It takes that volume out of the atmosphere, meaning that volume is not affecting the climate," Mr Fraeren said.

"We are monitoring the storage, and acquiring seismic surveys of the store reservoir every second year, and we can see how the CO2 is spreading over the injected reservoirs.

"We are also modelling how the CO2 behaves in the long term. What we are seeing in that modelling is that it will stay down there, and it will be safely stored there for generations."

However, although the carbon dioxide has been removed, the methane gas from the platform will ultimately be burnt - producing the greenhouse gas.

And Statoil's development of the site was ultimately a business decision, as Norway has a high carbon tax - meaning it would have cost the company more to release the CO2 into the air than remove it for permanent storage.

Meanwhile, Mr Fraeren explained that if other countries wished to use the North Sea aquifer to store their CO2, there would be major costs involved.

"It means pipelines from the CO2 emission points in Europe - with oil and gas plants producing the most volumes - and these pipelines being drilled to this plant and then pumping it in," he said.

"It will be a lot of money, and the money has to come from somewhere."

Challenging project

Last year Norway and the UK signed an agreement on carbon capture and storage. It urges greater co-operation in developing new technologies but falls short of any firm commitments.

Sleipner platform
You can argue that ambitions have not been good enough in this field - but this is a challenging project
Norwegian Energy Minister Odd Roger Enoksen
"The Norwegian government has great ambitions regarding capture, use and storage of CO2," said Norwegian Energy Minister Odd Roger Enoksen.

"This is challenging, but I think it is necessary to do this."

He explained that there is currently a plan to link the Sleipner platforms to a gas power plant on Norway's west coast, with CO2 capture beginning in 2009.

There has also been close cooperation with the UK, and discussions on how to share the problems across the continental shelf.

"We have more or less the same challenges," he said.

"You can argue that ambitions have not been good enough in this field - but this is a challenging project.

"We do not yet have the technology we need. It is developed over time, and the new government in Norway has said that we are willing to spend money on this project in order to solve it.

"That hasn't been the case previously, and you could say the ambition hasn't been there, but that's looking backwards. Several countries and several companies are looking at this issue - how to take care of the CO2 and how to decrease greenhouse gases.

"This is important, and I think that cooperation between countries and companies is essential in order to solve the problems we are dealing with."

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