UK ‘greenwashing oil and gas’ with Scotland Acorn CCS approval

A new carbon capture and storage (CCS) project has been confirmed for North East Scotland, with battle lines drawn either side. 

The Acorn project, located at St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, will receive £1bn in funding from the UK Government following an announcement by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. One of four ‘carbon capture clusters’ to be built across the country, it is expected to create 21,000 jobs and follows approvals for three other schemes, including Teesside and Wales. 

a group of oil rigs in the ocean   

Expected to capture some 5million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) each year in its first stage, the project uses existing pipelines to transport the gas out to one of three depleted North Sea gas fields, where it will can be stored. Supporters argue the creation of 21,000 jobs and Britain’s net zero ambitions rely on the development going ahead, with 50million tonnes of CO2 needed to be captured annually by 2035 to meet commitments. 

‘This is a good story for the UK overall, it’s not about political seats, it’s just about doing the right thing for the country,’ Sunak told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme ahead of the announcement. We’ve got four clusters now across the country that will help us transition to net zero in a new industry, and we’re strengthening our energy security by investing in the North Sea and getting oil and gas rounds there.’

Despite the economic case, critics have raised concerns that the technology itself is untested, and will simply serve to prolong the life of fossil fuel industries. Shell, which last week announced annual $5billion in profit for the second quarter, owns a 30% stake in the scheme, equal to that of partners Harbour Energy (which also has a large share in the Viking CCS project at Humberside alongside BP) and Storegga, with 10% held b North Sea Midstream Partners. 

‘The UK Government’s accountant puts the UK on a collision course with climate activists who have been calling for halting oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. It is also controversial for a nation which has been among the leading countries in fighting climate change,’ said Dr Carole Nakhle, Associate Lecturer in Energy Economics at the University of Surrey.

‘However, I don’t believe the UK is reversing its green agenda, but like many countries in Europe and elsewhere, it is putting important emphasis on energy security, especially following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which played a central role in skyrocketing energy prices last year,’ Dr Nakhle continued. ‘The UK has one of the highest share of renewable energy in the generation of electricity among the world’s richest economies. But oil and gas still account for nearly three-quarters of the country’s primary energy mix.’

Organisations such as Friends of the Earth Scotland argue that approving the Scottish CCS scheme amounts to greenwashing. In a statement, the campaign group criticised using public money to invest in the development rather than improvements to climate-saving initiatives, such as public transport or funding for retrofit and household insulation. Both of which would be doubly welcome at a time when the cost-of-living crisis, partly driven by high energy bills, continues unabated. 

‘Funding for the Acorn project would be yet another massive public subsidy to oil companies who have been making billions in profits, while ordinary people are struggling to pay the bills,’ said March Church, Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaign. ‘Instead of handing more money to polluters, it is time to redirect that investment to climate solutions that we know can deliver emissions cuts and improve peoples’ lives today – such as improving public transport and insulating people’s homes to help with energy bills.’

Stuart Haszeldine, a Professor of Carbon Capture and Storage at Edinburgh University, described the plans as ‘transformative for the decarbonisation of industry and economy in Scotland, and the northern UK’. However, he also warned the devil remains in the detail, and the project must be carried out alongside climate-saving measures, including emissions reductions. 

‘It’s also essential to ensure that this carbon storage with Acorn is a genuine decrease of emissions. Storage of 2 or 5 million tonnes CO2 per year should not become a policy excuse to release many tens million tonnes per year from development of new oil and gas extraction. Energy security will come from insulation, efficiency, and renewables,’ he said. ‘Lower consumer prices will not be delivered by repackaging the high carbon  past as a popular avoidance of bigger decisions.’

More on capture and storage: 

UK commitment to bio energy carbon capture is misguided

HomeBiogas promises waste-to-energy win, weather regardless

UK councils wanted for groundbreaking soil carbon capture project

$30m funding to use farmland for carbon capture

It does grow on trees: Afforestation could add £2bn to economy



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