AMID growing concern about the prospect of catastrophic climate change a lot of hope is being invested in the potential of a technology which may look premature to some.
While the expectation is that carbon emissions associated with energy production will be slashed as result of the renewables revolution it looks likely that the world will rely on oil and gas to meet at least part of its needs for decades.
If emissions are to be reduced to net zero by the UK Government’s target date of 2050 or the 2045 deadline favoured by the Scottish Government huge amounts of carbon associated with the use of hydrocarbons will have to be offset through methods such as tree planting and/or absorbed.
Against that backdrop some energy industry figures reckon that Carbon, Capture, Storage and Usage (CCUS) technology must form part of the mix.
The vision that champions set out appears seductive.
The North Sea features lots of depleted reservoirs that could be employed to store carbon dioxide that is a by-product of industrial processes along with pipeline infrastructure that could be repurposed.
Some reckon carbon capture technology could help underpin the viability of the production of hydrogen on a large scale for use as a low-emission fuel. This would involve separating hydrogen from natural North Sea gas and storing the associated carbon dioxide.
Attention will focus in coming months on the activity of a small Scottish company that some hope could play a key role in the development of carbon, capture and storage technology and hydrogen as a fuel source.
It is expected that in time the facilities developed at St Fergus will be linked to a cluster at Grangemouth to help deal with emissions produced in Scotland’s Central Belt, with possible connections to Europe to follow.
Pale Blue Dot has won backing for the project from big fish such as Shell, Total and Chrysaor Energy. It reckons Acorn could be operational by 2024.
Last week the UK Government agreed to provide £2.7 million support for the hydrogen project.
But campaigners at Greenpeace have warned against the risk of putting too much hope in the potential of what they have described as unproven carbon capture projects.
People have been talking about carbon capture projects for years without any on a commercial scale being developed in the UK North Sea.
'Vague and ambiguous' Government approach puts carbon capture and storage bonanza at risk
BP championed a £500m project to take carbon from Peterhead power station for storage offshore in the Miller field but pulled out in 2007 amid delays in securing Government funding.
Shell and SSE worked on a carbon capture storage scheme that would have involved linking Peterhead to the Goldeneye field, and which was seen as having the potential to create hundreds of jobs. But this fizzled out after the UK Government in 2015 cancelled a £1 billion competition to encourage firms to invest in carbon capture.
There may have been arguments in the past about how the costs of developing technology should be shared between the private and public sectors and related regulatory issues. Climate change will not wait until these are resolved.
After a report by MPs last year criticised UK Governments for failing to provide the clear policy direction required and focusing too much on the cost implications the onus is on the current administration to provide a clear lead and to avoid false economies.
The outcome of Pale Blue Dot’s Acorn project may have important long term ramifications in Scotland and more immediate implications for the country’s industrial economy. Work on CCUS and hydrogen projects could provide an important source of revenue for firms in the key oil and gas sector supply chain amid the continued fall out from the sharp fall in the crude price since 2014.