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Can a carbon capture site and a wind farm coexist at sea? BP and Orsted are having a blast

origin 1Two energy giants are competing for the same area of ​​the North Sea floor. ©BELGIAN PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE/REUTERS

Two energy giants – not quite alike in their green credentials – are jockeying for the same piece of seabed.

Oil Major BP extension plans to build a vast carbon capture project under the North Sea that would help Britain meet its emissions targets. Danish company Ørsted wants to build a huge offshore wind farm to help the country meet renewable targets.

The problem is that the backdrop is doubly booked and something must give.

The UK prelicensed both projects more than 10 years ago, when an overlap of around 110 square km on the seabed – the size of around disneyworld \- was not seen as a major obstacle for either technology.

But now a dispute is unfolding over this “overlapping zone” shared by Ørsted’s Hornsea Four wind farm and BP’s Endurance carbon capture and storage (CCS) off the Yorkshire coast.

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Why can’t a CCS and a wind farm coexist?

Boats used to monitor carbon leaks are at risk of colliding with wind turbines anchored to the seabed, according to recent studies.

Last year the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which regulates offshore energy activity, found that large crossovers between such initiatives were not currently feasible.

“At the time these rights were granted, it was not clear how emerging technologies would develop,” UK licensing agency Crown Estate told Reuters, referring to the wind farm and CCS licenses the government granted respectively. in 2010 and 2011.

BP is unwilling to switch to a more expensive boatless tracking system and Ørsted to cede territory, with both saying such concessions would hurt their business prospects.

This little-known confrontation risks undermining Britain’s drive to meet its climate goals.

This little-known confrontation risks undermining Britain’s drive to meet its climate goals, according to the companies involved and a North Sea green transition expert.

Endurance capacity alone could account for at least half of the 20-30 million tons of CO2 the nation plans to capture by 2030.

While the wind farm’s planned capacity of 2.6 gigawatts (GW) would help Britain reach its goal of increasing offshore wind capacity from 11 GW in 2021 to 50 GW by the end of the decade.

Resolving this conflict – and establishing new rules that determine whether a wind farm, carbon sink or other energy source has priority in areas of overlap – “is crucial if the UK is to achieve its net-zero goals,” says John Underhill, geoscientist and director of the Center of Energy Transition at the University of Aberdeen.

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The battle for space in the North Sea

origin 1BP is unwilling to switch to a more expensive boatless monitoring system and Orsted to cede territory. DADO RUVIC/REUTERS

The BP-Ørsted showdown could mark the beginning of similar disputes in an increasingly crowded environment North Sea.

The east coast of Britain has the right geology for carbon storage and the shallow waters needed for fixed-bottom offshore wind farms. So it’s shaping up to be a key battleground for competing green technologies in the coming years, they said.

“Offshore wind has obviously come along quite quickly since 2015, which has meant that there is increased pressure for space on the seabed,” said Chris Gent, policy officer at the European carbon capture association CCSA. .

of Britain BP extension and Danish renewable energy company Ørsted say they are busy finding a solution to their dispute, which will come to a head next month. UK authorities are expected to decide whether to give the Hornsea Four the final green light on February 22, while BP and its partners expect to make a final decision on investing in the Endurance this year.

It’s not just climate goals that are at stake; there is also a lot of money invested in the projects, which together would cover around 500 square km of seabed.

BP has not provided a cost estimate for Endurance, while Ørsted has pegged its wind farm at up to £8bn (€9bn).

The oil giant says it needs certainty about the zone’s fate before its final investment decision to enable CO2 injection in 2026 as planned.

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Alternative CO2 monitoring could be one answer

While NSTA has ruled out large physical overlaps between carbon storage sites and wind farms for now, there is hope that new technologies could change that.

The main competitor, ocean floor nodes (OBNs) attached to the seabed, could do much of the work of seismic data boats.

But Ronnie Parr, a senior geophysicist at the regulator, said that while OBN costs should come down, they probably still would have cost three to four times as much as using boats.

Alternative CO2 monitoring methods need to outgrow the development stages and become cheaper, especially in a CCS industry where profits are already tight.

Despite obstacles off the Yorkshire coast, talks continue.

BP said it was committed to a mutually acceptable outcome through ongoing commercial discussions, while Ørsted said it was confident an agreement could be reached to allow both projects to move forward.