Carbon dioxide is the grandparent of all issues discussed at COP. With its long, lingering lifespan and deleterious effects in abundance, its buildup is attracting emergency levels of attention from scientists, activists, industry and policy makers alike. But there are many ways to look at how to reduce it.
Approaches to atmospheric carbon mitigation range from a strong push for renewable sources and emissions reductions plans around fossil fuels, to slowing down deforestation and creating natural urban sinks (reforestation and green projects). Since the Gulf is a producer of fossil fuels used the world over, its perspective is intimately tied to industry, and industry’s strategy today is increasingly based on technologies related to carbon capture and storage (CCS). This approach involves capturing CO2 from the air and, in most cases, driving it deep into the ground. It has attracted serious study—and is currently practiced in the United States, Canada, Algeria, Norway and other countries—due to its potential to enhance fuel recovery as well as alleviate the problem of carbon buildup in the environment.
In the Gulf, the opportunities to sink CO2 into the ground abound, yet the challenges to implementing it are many. In the side event Carbon capture and storage in the GCC region, the challenges took shape as a policy expert and several regional industry executives shared their perspectives.
Mr. Saif Saed Al-Naimi, Director-HSE Regulations and Enforcement Directorate, Qatar Petroleum, began the discussion by saying that “the Kyoto Protocol will enter its second commitment period, until either 2013 or 2017, with a goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than two degrees. We have to initiate. We are looking at a 28 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050.”
With CCS projects underway worldwide and many more in the making, Al-Naimi said Qatar is joining the movement. Shell, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Science and Technology Park and Imperial College London are currently working with US$ 7million on a 10-year CCS R&D project, he said.
Beyond R&D, Al-Naimi said trans-boundary issues—where the carbon is sourced and sunk in any combination of border scenarios—are outlined in policy yet require deliberate discussion and review of international law and jurisdiction as well as definition of what constitutes a movement of waste.
“We need to look at the international convention of shared natural resources,” he said. “[Based on policy] we need to develop international related laws on this and a domestic legal framework for institutional boundaries as well as joint management approaches and bilateral agreements. This involves the coordination of different parties.”
Ali Al-Meshari, Overall Coordinator for Carbon Management in Saudi Aramco, described research and updates from a document put out by Saudi Aramco entitled “Current and future trends in carbon capture.”
“Saudi Arabia is engaged in UNFCCC discussion,” he said. “Our efforts are to be driven by technology and are to have minimum impact on the environment as well as the economy.”
He said plans are underway to capture CO2 and either “convert it to something useful or put it underground for permanent storage.”
One part of this strategy involves enhanced oil recovery (EOR), he said, elaborating that this would allow the country to meet energy demands, sink CO2 and protect the environment all at once.
Under the umbrella of CCS techniques fall those that involve pressurizing the CO2 and adding certain components to it to break up oil reserves that are tucked into hard-to-reach places underground. These techniques, termed enhanced oil recovery (EOR), are of particular interest to Saudi Arabia, he explained. The recovery methods can involve different gases, but CO2 produces the best results and could be sequestered at the same time, according to proponents in the fuel industry.
Al-Meshari pointed to statistics showing significantly increased oil production by the US due to EOR and 300 active EOR projects worldwide outside of the US. With oil supply declining in Saudi Arabia, he said the need is increasing for EOR so that all remaining oil is accounted for. With 11 projects underway and four methods being developed, he stressed a need for ‘long lead time’ to ensure that expertise is developed around the techniques and that the number of projects and approaches expands.
Of importance, he said that price so far has traditionally dictated the demand on EOR, but the reduction in supply as well as environmental concerns are coming to the fore as factors. He emphasized the future potential saying “investment is needed to get the competency up; these are complex operations and they demand high capital investment, personnel and a long lead time. You can’t go to the field and implement directly, and you have to think about ultimate oil recovery compared to immediate oil recovery.”
He discussed the twin challenges of meeting energy demands while protecting the environment. And then there is cost. The most expensive part of CCS is capturing CO2 and “that’s why Saudi Aramco and Saudi Arabia are working on strategies to reduce the cost of the capture,” he said.
“Further, how can we sequester CO2, address primary risks and uncertainties? How much CO2 can be stored in these reservoirs? We face significant challenges. We have to start now to do the right experiments and simulations.”
Ali Al-Meshari speaks on behalf of Saudi Aramco about CCS
To add policy context to the discussion, Axel Michaelowa, Founding Partner of Perspectives Climate Change, gave a presentation on carbon markets and the related policy mechanisms under debate at recent COPs.
“Carbon market knowledge is scattered,” he said, explaining that the CCS issue has been discussed as a clean development mechanism (CDM) for about a decade. Over this time, agreement on terms has stalled and is still expected to face delays this meeting.
“It took until 2010 to get a decision that there should be a set of rules about CCS,” he said. “Crucial factors are based on the fact that CO2 would find its way back out into the air … leak out.”
Additionally, he spoke of boundary issues that were highlighted by Mr. Al-Naimi. These issues combined with the uncertainty around long-term storage present roadblocks to policy makers, he said.
On the table then are long-term responsibility measures related to monitoring and remediation that may be necessary after the end of the crediting period for recipient lands.
“Can one find criteria that are universally acceptable?” he asked.
Then there are the environmental impacts. He said that EU submission 2012 requires broader liability taking into account the damage to the ecosystem, material or injuries—“people consider it a type of nuclear waste,” he said.
“National authorities of the host countries need to provide vetting of the legislation to the UN,” he continued. “This means long discussion between different ministries … it’s important to see how here in the region this challenge can be addressed.”
He said CCS has become a focal point in mitigation efforts. “This is an issue where you would get global recognition … you can possibly get more money than classical CDM methods; however, due to the more pressing issues like Kyoto, new market mechanisms might fall to the wayside this COP.”
On behalf of the United Arab Emirates, Arafat Al Yafei, CO2/N2 Development Manager at Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), spoke about CCS related activities therein.
“We want to reach a 70 percent recovery factor [with EOR],” he said. “To do that we have to go for unconventional schemes and the best one is CO2, which has been implemented in the states, in Texas, since 1971.”
Al Yafei described an effort in the UAE marked by a range of projects, particularly in Abu Dhabi, that are “meeting reduction objectives in reducing CO2.” These projects involve collaboration with universities and are based on research into CCS,” he added.
“We face risk,” he said, “not like in the states. You have to get everything in place and convince funders that there won’t be a negative impact in your reservoir.”
Abu Dhabi was the first Middle Eastern country to inject CO2 as a pilot study, he said. “We have completed this pilot and are working toward commercial projects to begin in 2015. CCS is coming … particularly EOR. We needed to test first for return on investment. Now we are ready for CCS, and we want to meet the target of reducing greenhouse gases.”
He said that, in comparison to the US, the UAE doesn’t have a natural CO2 reservoir and they must capture it from industry or the power sector, which adds a factor of cost related to compression and transport—“we have CO2 but it’s not cheap CO2,” he said.
Arafat Al-Yefai speaks on behalf of the ADNOC on CCS
He mentioned 10 pilot studies involving academic experts and industry partners.
“We are going in phases. We don’t want to jump. We want to get the knowledge and work forward,” he said. “The long-term roadmap sees us capturing most of the CO2 and injecting it. You need leadership, vision and commitment to those projects or else they won’t become a reality in the near future. There are risks but we must overcome them.
All the parties should work together, he said, including industry, academia, policy makers, regulators, government and financers.
“Because of the urgency of this issue, we can’t tolerate working alone. Everybody should work together, even financers and banks,” he said. “It is our duty to supply the international market is with oil and gas. The best way to do this is to meet the demand of energy and reduce your carbon footprint.”
The issue of CCS may not see closure at the policy level this cop, but ground-level efforts are underway and will depend highly on the latest research findings around this technology. In this, and many other cases on the table at COP 18, access to research and the sharing of the information discovered will be critically important for industry experts, civil society, policy makers and the world at large. QScience’s open access COP 18 special edition contains an entire section on CCS.