Putting a Lid on Greenhouse Gas

Monday, July 27, 2009

Shell is involved in a number of demonstration projects to store carbon dioxide (CO2) underground, including plans to store CO2 from the Pernis refinery in two depleted gas fields at Barendrecht, the Netherlands. In this interview, Margriet Kuijper, Shell Manager of Carbon Capture and Storage Projects and Studies, explains why.

Q Why is Shell so keen on storing CO2 in depleted gas fields - is it a way to earn big money, perhaps?

A The Dutch government sees CCS as important for combating climate change and is prepared to help pay for two demonstration projects. It is expected that in the future there will be limits on the CO2 emissions of oil and gas production plants, and on the use of fossil fuels by consumers. We expect that the world will need these fossil fuels over the coming decades, so Shell should be able to help find solutions to the challenge of CO2 emissions.

It is not clear whether it’s possible to make any money out of this. It is a climate measure. There is a chance that it will become a regulated business, where the market takes care of the execution but the government by means of a regulator sets the rates and therefore the margins.

Q Why does carbon capture and storage (CCS) still have to be demonstrated in Barendrecht when Gaz de France, for example, has been injecting CO2 into a gas field in the North Sea since 2004?

A That project only deals with a small amount of CO2, which came from the gas field itself and is currently decreasing in volume now the reservoir has almost been depleted. The project does not offer many of the opportunities to learn that Barendrecht does: these include legal liability, permits, payments (possibly in the shape of emission rights), CO2 monitoring once the reservoir has been filled, the safety of the surrounding area, and finding public support. Many matters need to be considered not just by us, but also by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and the Dutch Emission Authority.

Q A lot of local residents would like to know, “Why do we have to learn all this under Barendrecht?”

A When the government asked us to find affordable demonstration projects that can be executed quickly, we looked for an existing source of pure CO2 that had potential storage nearby. The logical choice in the west of the Netherlands turned out to be the CO2 produced by Pernis. We then had to decide whether to store in an underground saltwater deposit known as an aquifer or in small, depleted gas fields. As there is a lot of geological knowledge about gas fields and not an awful lot about aquifers, and because ground water moves but natural gas has been stored in the gas field without moving over millions of years, the natural choice was to store in gas fields.

Q But what is there to be learned under Barendrecht?

A CCS is a safe technique in itself, and it will be carried out with so many safeguards that it can be used anywhere, even in residential areas. This is what we want to prove with Barendrecht. The fact that it is a very small project is an advantage, since its first stage will be completed in three years and all learning points will have been demonstrated and proved, at a reasonable cost. After that, it is time to start on big projects, both on land and under the sea. These projects will benefit from what has been learned in Barendrecht, as it will be much easier to estimate the execution time of the procedures, the legal relationships concerning property, and the necessary investments and remunerations.

In Barendrecht, if we get approval, around 400,000 tonnes of CO2 will be stored annually. To put that in perspective, the Rotterdam Climate Initiative, which is supported by the local and provincial authorities, believes that by 2025 something like 20 million tonnes of CO2 a year will have to be stored in the Netherlands. By that time it will also be necessary to deal with the large amounts of CO2 being produced by new power stations in the north of the Netherlands.

Q How much underground storage space for CO2 exists in the Netherlands?

A We estimate that there is a storage capacity of around 1 billion tonnes under land and sea, excluding the Groningen gas field. The latter will still be in use for a significant amount of time, which means it does not get included in the CO2 storage estimates. In contrast with the countries that surround us, there are relatively few aquifers here.

Q Why did you decide not to use the depleted gas field De Lier, which lies just northwest of Shell Pernis, for CO2 storage?

A It was a field with around 40 abandoned and plugged wells, a number of which are situated next to newly built residences. It would be undesirable for all parties concerned to start monitoring wells so close to a residential area. You would have had to position yourself literally in people’s backyards. In Barendrecht, which will stop producing in 2010, we are dealing with one well; while the other gas field, Ziedewij, which will stop producing by 2014, has four wells. They’re all still in use, easily accessible, and relatively new.

Q Why do some people in Barendrecht have doubts about the safety of the project?

A CCS is relatively unknown, which means many people were prepared to listen to scare stories. We are often told that we trivialise the risks, but the opposite is true. In all our reports, including the environmental impact assessment we carried out, we have extensively investigated even the smallest risks.

Everyone knows that there is no such thing as a risk-free society. It is the responsibility of the authorities to assess the permissibility and size of the risks. And we are definitely within those limits.

Q Would you live in Barendrecht yourself if the CO2 storage project went ahead?

A I would have no problems with it. Funnily enough I live in a town that lies above a depleted gas field that will possibly be considered for CO2 storage in future.

* Margriet Kuijper spoke to Piet de Wit.

Barendrecht Quick Facts
• The Dutch government – which has set a target of lowering CO2 emissions by 30% from 1990 levels by 2020 – has made available a subsidy of €30 million. It is providing the same amount for a second project in South-Limburg.
• Shell will handle the storage and monitoring of CO2 at Barendrecht with OCAP, a joint venture of Linde Gas and VolkerWessels, responsible for transport and compression.
• Once the CO2 is in place, it will be permanently sealed with concrete plugs up to 100 metres in length.
• The city council in Barendrecht has voted against the plan.
• The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment are expected to decide later this year if the project should go ahead.

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This article is for information and discussion purposes only and does not form a recommendation to invest or otherwise. The value of an investment may fall. The investments referred to in this article may not be suitable for all investors, and if in doubt, an investor should seek advice from a qualified investment adviser. More

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