Heriot-Watt Plans To Map Carbon Storage Potential of UK Offshore Areas

A new study will identify the UK’s best sites and produce a roadmap for carbon storage to help the country reach its net zero targets, geologists say.

The gas fields of the southern North Sea are the focus of the Heriot-Watt University study, which has received funding from the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) and support from the UK regulator the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), offshore operators, and data owners.

John Underhill, a professor at Heriot-Watt University’s School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, said he believes the southern North Sea is one of the more promising options for large-scale carbon capture and storage in the UK.

“The southern North Sea faces three of some of the UK’s largest carbon emission areas: the industrial hubs of Teesside, Humberside and the Thames estuary,” he said. “It also has a number of depleted gas fields that could be repurposed to store carbon. We are going to systematically examine the geology of these sites and determine which critical factors allow carbon to be safely stored over long, geological timescales.”

A team from Heriot-Watt will create a roadmap for other sites by mapping the geological features and their carbon storage potential. The best sites and any potential leakage points will be identified. Accurate mapping of the overburden will be used to develop mitigation strategies and early warning systems for any carbon escape or seepage.

The team will use data from the OGA’s National Data Repository, one of the largest-ever single open releases of field and infrastructure data from the UK’s oil and gas industry, which was made open access for the first time in 2019.

The project will receive funding from the OGTC’s Subsurface Solution Centre, which is supporting accelerating decarbonization technologies in the UK.

Gillian White, Subsurface Solution Centre manager at the OGTC, said, “This is an exciting example of transferring skills from the oil and gas industry to carbon capture and storage, alongside sharing knowledge and data. Ultimately, this project will give policymakers the tools they need to determine the most suitable sites for carbon capture and storage, which is aligned with OGTC’s vision to transform the UKCS into a net zero basin.”

“If we are to reach net zero targets,” Underhill said, “we must make serious progress in carbon capture and storage. We need to identify the best sites based on their geology and evaluate the risk of leakage so that we select the right sites, in the most logical order, and understand the total volume of carbon that could be stored. We must do this correctly and on a large scale. We won’t get a second chance to get this right, as all credibility will be lost if leakage takes place from a poorly selected site.”

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