A new study has set out how the Bacton Gas Terminal in Norfolk would be ideally suited to emerge as an important hub to supply low-carbon energy — particularly hydrogen — to key markets in London and south-east England in the decades ahead.

Commissioned by the Oil & Gas Authority (OGA), the UK's North Sea offshore regulator, the study found that Bacton’s proximity to both southern North Sea gas fields and wind farms would make it an ideal location for the production of both blue and green hydrogen.

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy to power electrolysis — splitting water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen can also be produced with steam-reforming processes using natural gas combined with carbon capture and storage (CCS), called "blue hydrogen" — although this is not a carbon-free process.

Ample space offshore for carbon storage and easy access to markets also mean Bacton could remain crucial to the UK’s energy mix for many years to come, according to the findings of the study.

Supply and demand

The study evaluated the technical and economic feasibility of the production of both blue and green hydrogen.

It also analysed the likely future demand profile for the cleaner-burning gas, concluding there is the potential for “very significant” hydrogen demand in the Bacton catchment area.

By 2030, this could even reach the equivalent of almost 20% of the government’s UK-wide target of 5 gigawatts of low-carbon production by 2030.

The study also found that wind farms in the vicinity of Bacton could produce nearly 40% of the UK’s target of producing 40GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Scott Robertson, director of operations at the OGA, said: “A source of safe, secure and clean power for millions of people and businesses for decades to come, as well as being a boost for jobs and the local economy, all makes this a very exciting prospect.

“We now look forward to working closely with interested parties to thoroughly explore all of the elements involved in making this become a reality.”

'Not mutually exclusive'

The report stated that blue and green hydrogen scenarios “are not mutually exclusive” and that “both can be delivered”, although it is “anticipated blue hydrogen will dominate from 2030 to the mid-2040s, by which time green hydrogen’s costs will have reduced to compete with blue”.

It noted that continued production and development of natural gas in the near term will be needed to ensure existing infrastructure remains in place.

“Foresight of the developing hydrogen market could therefore result in life extensions for key infrastructure of up to a decade,” it said.

However, an environmental group questioned the report's findings.

Environmental group scepticism

Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “No doubt oil and gas interests would like to promote sites that facilitate the use of hydrogen in heating homes and offices, but independent analysts think that’s a really bad idea because blue hydrogen at any scale is not compatible with net zero.

"The limited supplies of truly clean hydrogen from offshore wind and other renewables need to be supplied to hard-to-abate sectors like steel and chemicals. Bacton isn’t a good location for that at all.”

About 30% of the UK's gas supply, as well as imports and exports from Europe, passes through Bacton, which was commissioned in the late 1960s.

Today it contains a number of different sites.

Shell, Eni and Perenco each operate their gas reception and processing terminals there.

There are also links into the UK’s National Transmission System and directly to the European market.

The publication of this week's report comes after the OGA commissioned Progressive Energy to undertake the study in December 2020.