OPINION: It is encouraging that the UK government has finally announced a short list of bidders for the second stage of its carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects, but the rate of progress is still painfully slow.

As global warming brought record temperatures and severe water shortages to the UK, ministers filtered down 41 original applications for various kinds of carbon capture to 20 schemes.

A further process of due diligence will now be undertaken before public funding from a £1 billion ($1.214 billion) Carbon Capture & Infrastructure Fund is made available.

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Equinor’s ambitious carbon capture and hydrogen production plant at Saltend in East Yorkshire is hoping to start operations as early as 2026.

The Norwegian oil and offshore wind business believes it can reduce local emissions from one of the UK’s most heavily industrialised locations around the Humber Estuary by 1 million tonnes.

The project’s 2026-2027 start-up schedule would mean it comes on stream around two years after Equinor’s equally ambitious Northern Lights project in Norway.

Working with Shell and TotalEnergies, Equinor boasts that Northern Lights will be the first cross-border, open-source carbon dioxide transport and storage network with specially designed vessels carrying carbon to an onshore terminal, where it would move by pipeline for storage beneath the North Sea.

There is now significant momentum with more than 100 new carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) schemes unveiled in 2021 alone.

There were 30 commercial CCUS facilities operating at the start of this year in nine countries — around two-thirds in North America, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Leading US oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Occidental Petroleum, which have avoided a route into renewables adopted by leading European competitors, have committed themselves to building a thriving CCS business.

ExxonMobil has estimated there will be a $4 trillion market by the middle of the century for capturing and storing CO2.

Occidental is developing the world’s largest project to extract CO2 from the air and has said it could earn as much from this business as it does now from oil and gas.

Even though the United Nations Paris climate change agreement of 2015 made clear that carbon capture must play a key role in reaching emission targets, questions remain over the safety and efficacy of these projects.

The difficulties Chevron has had with its Gorgon project in Australia highlight that lessons are still being learned.

And as the IEA points out, “The planned pipeline of projects would fall well short of the 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2 capture capacity deployed by 2030 in the (UN’s Paris climate agreement) net zero by 2050 scenario.”

Serious questions also remain around the willingness of governments to financially support many of the projects or ensure a proper price for carbon through cap-and-trade or other schemes.

The UK previously encouraged Shell and others to proceed with CCS projects at Peterhead in Scotland and in North Yorkshire only to pull the plug on funding in 2015.

This time, it needs to be different. The signs suggest it will be.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)