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Carbon Capture and Storage Technology

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2007

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the use of carbon capture and storage technology in Scotland. (122160)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. This includes the matter of carbon capture and storage, which may offer considerable potential in the fight to combat the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He knows of some of the exciting carbon capture schemes under consideration in Scotland, but what is he doing specifically to ensure that such projects receive funding and when will he make a statement to the House about how quickly that can be enacted?

I know of the hon. Gentleman’s considerable interest in the Peterhead project. Consulting engineers are advising the Government and they are due to report to us in March—next month. We have made it clear that in the course of this year we expect to be able to make a decision in light of the engineering report.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the tragedy at Pennyvenie open-cast pit in my constituency where two miners were killed. That terrible tragedy will be felt deeply by the mining community who have lost so many in the past. It is also a reminder that mining remains an arduous and difficult job. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families; our thoughts are with them and their work colleagues at this time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of environmentally sensitive technology to obtain a mixed energy policy is important, and that it is also important that such development is undertaken jointly with the Scottish Executive, the UK Government and international Governments? In that regard, does he welcome the £7 million investment at Garleffan pit in New Cumnock for a conveyor that will allow coal to be taken off the roads and carried by rail at a saving of 54,000 road movements a year? Does he agree that is the kind of practical step—

First, on behalf of the Government and the whole House, I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). Mining communities the length and breadth not just of Scotland but of the United Kingdom have suffered terrible tragedies in the past and the regrettable incident involving her constituents is a timely reminder to us all of the risks people take whether in open-cast or deep-cast mines. I understand that inquiries are already under way to try to understand the basis of the accident and to ensure that there is no repeat of such an accident in future.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, she is right to recognise the importance of a mixed energy policy, and I understand that within a matter of weeks my ministerial colleague at the Scotland Office is due to visit the project at the new facility that she described. I hope that is testimony both to the Government’s interest and to their commitment to ensuring that mining, along with other energy sources, can continue to make a significant contribution to the diverse energy mixes in the United Kingdom.

May I, too, associate myself with the comments about the open-cast mining fatality? Open-cast mining is an important industry in my constituency and we all know the dangers involved.

It would appear that on carbon capture there is, for once, agreement on both sides of the House. My colleague, the shadow Chancellor said in Aberdeen recently that carbon capture is likely to play a crucial role if we are to meet our international commitments on reducing carbon emissions. I, too, believe that the North sea has the potential to be the centre for carbon capture and storage for the whole of northern Europe, so does the Secretary of State agree that after an energy White Paper, the Stern report, the pre-Budget report and his earlier answer it is time for action, not just warm words, from the Government? They can give business a signal so that it can move forward and enable that technology to fulfil its potential in Scotland and, indeed, so that Scotland can fulfil its potential as a world leader in that field.

In light of the hon. Gentleman’s warm words, I shall explain the action the Government have already taken. The United Kingdom has already taken the lead in proposing amendments to the London convention on the prevention of marine pollution by the dumping of waste and other matters. As a result, the London convention has been amended to allow carbon dioxide to be stored in the sub sea bed, including in the North sea. The Government have also taken action by setting up a joint taskforce with Norway to establish the underlying principles on which such carbon capture and storage can take place. As I said, we have already instructed engineers to advise us and they are due to report to the Government next month so that we can take forward detailed work in relation to the suggestions about funding—for example, to Peterhead.

I am proud to represent the city of Aberdeen, the energy capital of Europe. The potential that we have in carbon capture is to make Scotland a world energy capital, and it is important that we make the right decisions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is important that the Government research the cost and the technological options, we must remember that the clock is ticking? The main project, the Peterhead project, is a world leader at the moment, but it may not stay that way for very long.

I am certainly aware of Aberdeen’s huge significance, not just in the Scottish or indeed European economy but in the world economy, based on oil production but, I am happy to say, broadening into a more diverse range of energy technologies. I know that my hon. Friend is keen to ensure that energy technologies extending beyond petroleum are added to the portfolio of skills in Aberdeen. On the specific issue that he raises, I am sure that he will be aware, given his Select Committee role, that the Prime Minister talked at some length at the last Liaison Committee meeting about the importance that the whole Government attach to the Peterhead project, and I hope that that will give him some comfort. We will reach a decision within months—in the course of the year.

Let me associate the Scottish National party with the condolences expressed to the mining families.

In a debate in Westminster Hall earlier today, there was no indication that the Scotland Office had done or was doing anything decisive to help the Peterhead project; in fact, there was no mention of the Scotland Office. I know that the Secretary of State is busy with many other things, such as leading the Scottish election campaign, but can he give us an indication of what his Department is doing to push forward that technology, which is not just world leading but potentially planet saving? The project will give us a foothold in the hydrogen economy. What impact does the right hon. Gentleman see that aspect having, and how will his Department support Scotland in this matter?

I am glad to confirm that we see significant technological potential for carbon capture. On the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about my involvement and that of the Scotland Office in the issue, of course we take a close interest in the Peterhead project. Given the two other Ministers directly involved in the matter—the Chancellor of Exchequer, as it is also a Treasury matter, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, both of whom represent Scottish seats—it is rather difficult to substantiate the argument that Scotland’s voices are not being heard. The time that it would take to address some of the nonsense spoken by the SNP prevents me from extending my remarks across a wide range of policy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the developments taking place which mean that carbon capture can be pushed back into the coal reserves in the United Kingdom, thus allowing methane to come out the other side? At a later stage, we may even be able to extract that coal. Will my right hon. Friend look at some of the developments that are taking place in Scotland and pay a visit to some of the projects in the central region?

I have had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency in recent months. We have had the opportunity not only today but on previous occasions to discuss the potential for such technology in former deep mines, and I believe that it can potentially make a significant contribution in the central region of Scotland in years to come.