The UK has awarded 20 licences to 12 companies for carbon capture and storage (CCS) at offshore sites as part of the country’s net-zero push.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from industrial processes and then storing them underground in geological formations. Through CCS, Britain hopes to store up to 30 million tonnes (mt) of CO₂ per year by 2030.

In June 2022, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) announced the opening of the first-ever licensing round for carbon storage in the UK.

The total of 20 licences covers an area of almost 12,000km², with the first injection anticipated to happen as early as six years.

NSTA chief executive Stuart Payne said: “As a nation, we cannot meet our decarbonisation targets without carbon storage. The awards we offer today could store around 10% of the UK’s emissions, and through our engagement with applicants, we will have committed work plans in place such as seismic surveys and drilling of wells – we are working with industry to move at real pace.”

Some 19 companies applied for licences and the awardees include Enquest, Perenco, Neptune Energy and Centrica-backed Spirit Energy.

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According to an NSTA representative who spoke to Reuters, the names of other winning bidders cannot be revealed until after they have accepted the licence.

EnQuest chief financial officer Salman Malik said: “We are delighted to have successfully secured the offer of licences to develop our carbon storage business in the North Sea, utilising the Sullom Voe Terminal in Shetland. EnQuest has plans to develop a low-cost carbon megastore that will initially be capable of storing 10mt of CO₂ a year.”

Spirit Energy CEO Neil McCulloch said: “I am extremely pleased and proud that we have been granted a licence by the NSTA to repurpose the depleted North and South Morecambe gas fields into a world-leading carbon storage hub.”