CCS has been delayed for another four years, in an admission it is far from "off-the-shelf".
Finding an economically viable method to remove CO2 from fossil fuel and store it underground – carbon capture and storage or CCS for short – has been a cornerstone of Norwegian climate policy for a number of years. Per capita, the Norwegian Government has been among the top spenders on CCS research and development in the world. As one of the leading oil and gas exporting countries, their interest in CCS is not difficult to understand.
Most parties in the Norwegian Parliament support the development of two or more full scale CCS plants in Norway, and are also committed to the government taking responsibility for storage of CO2. So far, however, the government has not paid a single Norwegian krone for such storage. The simple reason is this – there are not yet any CCS facilities in Norway operating at an industrial scale. As the years go by, the goal of industrial CCS plants seems to recede gradually into the future.
The supporters of CCS have a long list of what they see as broken promises regarding the building of full-scale CCS plants. This list goes back to the time the idea first was launched back in the late 1990s. The supporters had a new disappointment this spring. On 1 May 2010 it became clear that a full-scale CCS plant in Norway would be postponed for another four years.
According to the parliamentary opposition, the governing red-green coalition had enough information as early as April 2009 to suggest the project would have to be postponed, but suppressed it due to potential damage to their re-election prospects. In response, the opposition directed a collective no-confidence motion towards the oil and energy minister in the red-green government, Mr. Terje Riis-Johansen, for withholding information.
The no-confidence vote did not have any practical consequences for the minister, as the red-green government led by Mr. Jens Stoltenberg has a majority in the parliament. But the vote illustrates the heat that the issue sometimes attracts in Norwegian politics.
Following the postponement of the CCS project, a parliamentary hearing was held in June this year. Gassnova is the Norwegian government organisation with responsibility for CCS. At the hearing, the director of Gassnova underlined that the technology involved is far from being "off-the-shelf ". This is in stark contrast to the opinion of the companies seeking a part of the contract for building the plants, supported by some Norwegian NGOs, principally Bellona. According to them, the construction of a full-scale CCS plant at Mongstad, west of Bergen on the Norwegian coast, could start almost immediately.
The Norwegian minister for oil and energy, Mr. Riis-Johansen, argued that there was a need for more testing at small-scale facilities before they could start building a full-scale CO2 removal plant. Originally, the government had said that testing at a small-scale facility and building of a full-scale plant should be completed in parallel. In that case, a full-scale CCS plant would have been scheduled to be operational in 2014. The postponement means that an investment decision will not be made until 2014, and a full-scale CCS plant will not be operational until 2018, at the earliest.
Tore Braend is an energy and climate policy specialist and consultant who lives in Norway. He is the author of Carbon Capture and Storage in Norway. October 2008, Air Pollution & Climate Secretariat series No.22.