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Steve Chiotakis: Britain could be on the brink of a new North Sea bonanza. The sea bed around its coast could yield another multibillion-dollar fortune. But this time, the U.K. would not be extracting oil and gas. The plan is to sell space under the sea for storing carbon dioxide. From London, Stephen Beard filed this report.
Stephen Beard: From oil rigs like this, Britain has pumped billions of dollars worth of fossil fuels out of the North Sea. Now, it could make billions more from the battle against global warming by pumping carbon dioxide back down under the same sea.
Stuart Haszeldine: The whole purpose of doing this is to store the carbon dioxide for hundreds and probably tens of thousands of years to prevent it going into the atmosphere.
Stuart Haszeldine of Edinburgh University says capturing carbon emissions from power stations and burying them could be one of the best ways of tackling climate change. He's just completed a new geological survey of the North Sea. And he says the many depleted oil wells and the porous sandstone in the British sector offer a unique business opportunity:
Haszeldine: The U.K. has been blessed with a large amount of storage capacity in the rocks around the U.K. We've probably got hundreds of years of storage for European power plants.
Offering undersea storage will appeal to Britain's European neighbors, says David Reiner of the Judge Business School. Europe's biggest carbon emitter, Germany, is already trying to develop onshore carbon storage sites and meeting resistance:
Reiner: They call it NUMBY -- not under my backyard. So the big advantage that they have in the case of the offshore, in the case of the North Sea, is that considerably reduces some of those concerns.
There are still concerns. Will the CO2 leak damaging marine life? Is there any danger of the seabed suddenly releasing all the CO2 in a giant, volcanic belch?
Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey has studied a carbon capture project in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea:
Mike Stephenson: We can see the CO2 collecting, we know what it's doing. So the science is telling us it looks OK.
North Sea Carbon Capture could earn Britain $7 billion a year and support up to 60,000 jobs. Stephenson says the U.K. should follow the example of Texas, which has a similar geology. The state is already promoting itself as "the CO2 sink for the U.S."
In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.