Guest Blog: Carbon dioxide transport – the missing link in delivering carbon capture and storage

26 Oct 2016

Transporting carbon dioxide across national borders will become a vital part of future carbon capture and storage value chains, but legal issues around risk need to be clarified, argue Queen Mary University of London’s Raphael Heffron and Lauren Downes.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is very much in its earliest days as a major factor in the energy system. However, if or when CCS becomes significant, we believe that CO2 transport across national borders will become a critical component of the CCS value chain, and that we need to start thinking through the financial and legal aspects of such transport now.

It will be necessary to deliver the CO2 from industry and energy infrastructure into long-term storage sites both onshore and offshore. This means building a pipeline infrastructure which will, in our view, necessitate cross-border transport of CO2.

Building CO2 transport links between states will be expensive but can resolve the CO2 emission problems of industry and CO2-emitting energy infrastructure around Europe.

We are now part of an interdisciplinary team working on this topic in the Gateway project, in which we are providing the legal analysis. With an emphasis on the technical and economic aspects of CCS, few CCS projects to date have involved lawyers and project Gateway should be commended for including us!

Initial results from our project, which will conclude next year, reveal there are legal issues at three levels – international, national and local. The majority of these legal issues it has to be said are surmountable given time and hard work! However, there remain a number which need more concerted efforts at national and international levels.

Risk and how it is shared both financially and in terms of liability are the key issues. Given the international aspect of CCS, with CO2 being transported transboundary from source to sink, it is unlikely that one state will finance and operate one such project itself, necessitating cooperation among several states. In addition, there needs to be increased international action so as to ensure the insurance industry supports CCS internationally and ensure principles of best-practice can occur in development and operation of projects.

Such activities for the CCS industry can be achieved. One only has to look to the nuclear energy sector and see the value of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the industry in establishing international treaties, education, and best-practice principles and procedures in the development and operation of nuclear energy infrastructure. A similar such organisation could make a great impact upon the CCS industry.

CCS has a role to play in the development and continuation of low-carbon economic policies across the world. It is time to explore new ways of thinking about CCS – so let’s begin with focusing on surmounting the obstacles to CO2 transport development.

Professor Raphael Heffron is a Barrister-at-Law (Honourable Society of King’s Inns) and Jean Monnet Professor in Energy and Natural Resources Law and Policy in the School of Law, Queen Mary University of London. Lauren Downes is a US-trained lawyer and Research Associate, Energy and Natural Resources Law Institute, Queen Mary University of London.