Repurpose 100 North Sea oil and gas pipelines for £14bn net-zero windfall, says regulator

UK's Oil and Gas Authority calls repurposing pipelines for carbon capture and hydrogen gas a 'priority'

The UK is analysing its oil and gas infrastructure to establish which pipelines can be repurposed. PA

The UK's oil and gas regulator has identified 100 pipelines that could be repurposed, resulting in savings worth £14 billion ($18.8bn) as the country seeks to install carbon capture and storage capabilities.

At a conference on the future of the North Sea, the head of decommissioning at the Oil and Gas Authority, Pauline Innes, said new analysis had identified 100 of the UK's 3,000 pipelines that could be repurposed for hydrogen and carbon capture.

She said decommissioning is the industry’s “unsung hero” and repurposing pipelines is a “priority”.

“It is increasingly clear that the destination for infrastructure that is returned to shore is not necessarily recycle our waste; it could be reused or repurposed,” she said.

“We realised some oil and gas structures could have a life beyond hydrocarbons and there are opportunities to decarbonise decommissioning.

“Our analysis on repurposing is leading us to the conclusion that there are great opportunities to reuse or repurpose infrastructure that is being removed from the marine environment. We also see relatively small but nonetheless valuable opportunities for infrastructure left in the marine environment to be used in another sector.

“Pipelines are where we see the main repurposing opportunity. As a transmission route connecting offshore and onshore, they can be of value to the carbon storage and hydrogen market.”

Ms Innes said pipelines hold the key due to the cost savings involved.

“If a pipeline were to be used for carbon capture or hydrogen, it has the effect of saving the new owner time, effort and the cost of installing a new pipeline,” she said.

“That is not only good from an environmental perspective, it is also good from a cost perspective. Money saved from installing infrastructure can be used elsewhere in the business.

A move to repurpose just half the infrastructure appears realistic in the short run. “We have identified 100 pipelines. If half of them were to find a life beyond oil and gas, the economic impact would be a saving of around £7bn — that is £7bn to be invested elsewhere, perhaps on developing or improving a new technology or mitigating risks that arise when you are establishing a new market.

“So, while 100 pipelines might sound small in the scheme of decommissioning, it could make a significant impact in supporting energy transmission.”

The Oil and Gas Authority is now working with operators who are five years away from ceasing operations to establish if their infrastructure can be repurposed.

The UK is presently developing its first deep test sites to examine the possibility of storing carbon dioxide in former oil and gas wells onshore.

Twenty wells in the north of England have been identified for the project, in which 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide could be buried.

The cost of repurposing a well and installing monitoring equipment is estimated to be £5 million.

Updated: January 28, 2022, 1:13 PM