Polar Bear Co-Option

My print copy of New Scientist magazine slithers through the letterbox in its biodegradable plastic sheath and plops weightily on the doormat. Hours later I pick it up, and it crinkles with the promise of lots of juicy new information. What I’m not prepared for is the disappointment of the sell-out on the inside of the front cover :-

“Win a trip to the high Arctic and the deep sea : Ever wanted to see polar bears and whales in their natural habitats ? Or how about visiting the sea floor ? Here’s your chance : New Scientist has teamed up with Statoil, the global energy company, to offer one lucky winner and a guest the trip of a lifetime – to sail around the Svalbard archipelago inside the Arctic Circle, home to polar bears and whales, and to fly to the giant Troll platform, where you will visit the bottom of the North Sea. To win this amazing prize all you have to do is tell us, in no more than 100 words, which engineering project you think will have the greatest impact on human life in the next 30 years, and why. To find out more and to enter the competition go to www.newscientist.com/engineeringgreats. The closing date for entries is 2 March 2011.”

A large part of the page is taken up with a photograph of a polar bear, a poster child for Climate Change.

The implication-by-association is that Statoil want to protect the environment. But what’s their real business ? Shipping large quantities of Natural Gas – not exactly zero carbon fuel.

Not only that, but pages 10 and 11 of the magazine are an “advertising feature” on behalf of Statoil. The infommercial is in exactly the same style and typeface as the rest of the magazine, which I think is plain deceptive. Perhaps it is there to make sure that people entering the prize competition nominate Statoil’s technology as the “engineering great” for the future. That’s a bit rich. In one fell swoop the global energy industry have co-opted not only polar bears but the New Scientist magazine into the bargain !

The “advertising feature” features Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), which is what Statoil is famous for with their Sleipner facility, where they inject excess Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from Natural Gas back into the field to store it. The “advertising feature” attempts to sell the “good idea” of CCS, but cleverly injects a bit of “balance” to take the reader along with it.

“…The conclusion so far is that the CO2 is safely stored…It’s not possible to be 100 per cent certain about this…”

I would have thought that if it’s not 100% locked down that some people might be quite unsure about relying on it. But anyway. It appears that the European Union and several other key players really believe in CCS technology, and are willing to put public funds into it :-

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/technology/initiatives/doc/implementation_plan_2010_2012_eii_ccs.pdf

http://ec.europa.eu/energy/technology/initiatives/initiatives_en.htm

The only way that any business would buy into CCS would be if there is a carbon price differential implemented – as CCS adds costs to everything :-

“…Statoil made the choice to lock up the field’s CO2 for good business reasons: the Norwegian government would have levied a tax of $50 for every tonne of CO2 it emitted…”

But fitting CCS to power plants is going to be a lot different than the Sleipner project :-

“…Then there is the question of whether the technique can be extended to CO2 produced by combustion, in particular from fossil-fuel power stations…handling flue gases from power plants is going to require significant extra cost…”

So what kind of carbon price would support Carbon Capture and Storage ? $80 per tonne ? $120 per tonne ? That’s the kind of money our leaders are willing to shell out from tax revenues to support the continued burning of coal to make electricity. Wouldn’t it be better, more cost effective, to put the money into Renewable Energy technologies and just stop burning coal ? After all, coal could get a lot more pricey in the next few years :-

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-chinese-coal-monster-running-out-of-puff-2010-11

If I were in charge, I would recommend that nobody builds any new coal-fired power stations, and that we start a phase of withdrawal from coal-burning for power generation, forget about Carbon Capture and Storage and put the public money into financing the development of Biogas, BioSyngas and Renewable Hydrogen – zero carbon gas products that could replace Natural Gas and coal entirely.

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