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  • The oil company Equinor is doing something extraordinary

  • on the Sleipner gas platform in the North Sea.

  • It pumps millions of tons of carbon dioxide under the sea bed:

  • The greenhouse gas that threatens to

  • warm the planet is simply bunkered away.

  • And Equinor has plans to sequester even more carbon dioxide.

  • The storage potential in the North Sea is large enough to handle a

  • substantial part if not everything that comes out of Europe.

  • Can that work? Will ships with CO2 soon be going to Norway

  • to sink our climate problem under the North Sea?

  • The technologies exist, but do they really advance

  • climate protection or are we just buying time?

  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on

  • Climate Change, we can only emit a maximum

  • of around 330 billion tons of CO2 if the rise in global temperature is to

  • stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We are currently releasing

  • around 42 billion tons a year. If we carry on as before, the CO2 budget

  • would be used up in around 8 years, by 2028.

  • Steps like closing coal-fired power plants,

  • expanding the use of renewable energies

  • and switching to electric cars will cause CO2 emissions to decrease.

  • The more ambitious we are, the more they go down. But keeping the

  • increase below 330 billion tons seems a hopeless cause.

  • And it means there'll be more CO2 that has to be removed from the air.

  • We need reforestation. We have to think about how to deal

  • with our bogs, but that won't be enough.

  • Even if we cut our CO2 emissions in half

  • every decade, we will still have to remove

  • several hundred million tons of CO2

  • from the atmosphere by the end of the century.

  • So, we have to ask ourselves where we can put it.

  • Norway has a lot of experience removing and storing CO2.

  • Equinor extracts natural gas on a peninsula near

  • Hammerfest, the northernmost city in Europe.

  • Andreas Sandvik is in charge of the plant. He is proud that a way has

  • been found here to get rid of CO2, but also to deliver

  • an immense amount of fossil energy to Europe.

  • It is amazing. It's a lot of energy.

  • Typically energy for a city of 60,000 inhabitants

  • for a whole year that's about 1.2 gigawatts. So it's amazing.

  • CO2 is always a by-product of natural gas extraction. But the crucial thing

  • here is that it flows back under the North Sea. The system is

  • controlled remotely from the command center. There is no offshore platform.

  • One pipeline brings natural gas to the plant,

  • while another carries CO2 back under the sea.

  • In this, the gas stream coming in, about 6%

  • of the content is CO2. And this is quite

  • unique about this plant, because we remove the CO2, we dry it

  • and compress it and we push it back to a separate reservoir offshore

  • for permanent storage. 90 tons an hour, almost 800,000 tons

  • a year that we store permanently in this reservoir, offshore 143 kms out.

  • The state-owned company that made Norway

  • one of the richest countries on earth

  • would like to benefit from this experience. Equinor is in the process

  • of establishing a new business modelit calls the project Northern Lights.

  • As early as 2023, the first ships will bring

  • CO2 from European industry to Norway.

  • A new pipeline descends steeply from the coast, then runs 110 kilometers

  • along the sea floor, to a point where the greenhouse gases are

  • injected 2,500 meters deep into the North Sea sediment.

  • Sverre Overå is responsible for the new field of business.

  • It's his job to lead the company into the future.

  • Norway is seeing this as an opportunity here

  • to actually continue to use the resources

  • that are in the North Sea, not as an energy provider

  • but as a storage provider for industrial CO2.

  • Construction of the plants has started, and

  • the first test drilling has been done.

  • The gigantic Northern Lights project is meant to pave the way

  • for the large-scale storage of CO2. Its initial goal is to

  • free Europe's industries from greenhouse gases.

  • If we succeed then we have the opportunity to actually help

  • clean up quite a few of the industries that have no other option and we will

  • allow these industries actually to stay here in Europe. It's hard

  • to see a world without steel, it's hard to see a future without cement.

  • They are essential and they need to decarbonize as well.

  • Even if steel production switches to renewable energy sources, there will

  • always be an amount of CO2 left over from the manufacturing process.

  • Looking at German industry as a whole, this remaining CO2

  • accounts for around 7 percent of CO2 emissions. If Europe

  • is serious about climate protection, these emissions must also be stopped.

  • But is it realistic that freighters will bring CO2 from Germany to Norway?

  • Today there are only four ships like the Froya worldwide.

  • Tommy Pederson is responsible for loading the tanker.

  • In the Norwegian port of Porsgrunn, it takes on CO2 that

  • was released during the production of fertilizers.

  • The gas is delivered to the food industry, which uses it in

  • beer and fizzy drinks, for example, or for cooling.

  • Today, CO2 is a commodity in small quantities.

  • After the gas has been cooled and compressed,

  • the Froya transports it in liquid form.

  • The tank holds 1500 tons of CO2. Assuming that all of the

  • carbon dioxide produced by German industry would be transported by ships

  • like the Froya, around 100 of these tankers

  • would have to travel from Germany to Norway every day.

  • But that's not a problem for the specialist.

  • In theory it will be just a cost calculation,

  • how is the optimum size of the ship,

  • from around the North Sea down into the northern sea seabed.

  • I'm sure if this is a technology that those companies will chose,

  • they will calculate the right size of the ship.

  • So, shipping CO2 to Norway is plausible. But would those millions

  • of tons of greenhouse gases really stay put under the ocean floor?

  • This is the Kieshof Mire near Greifswald in eastern Germany.

  • Prof. Hans Joosten has many objections to the idea of sinking our greenhouse

  • gases using technical processes. He believes our priority should

  • be to restore natural CO2 stores, such as bogs.

  • We have to get away from the illusion that we can do business as usual

  • and develop a technology that compensates for all our sins.

  • Joosten is Dutch. He has researched bogs all over the world, works on the

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and is called "the peat pope“.

  • Here Joosten tries to understand the origin and development

  • of bogs in the meter-thick layers of peat.

  • These are actually my favorite peat to taste. These water peat mosses.

  • They taste very fine, often sulfurous. Sulfide-like. And of course

  • we have to use all of our senses to better understand nature.

  • We always think that we need a lot of devices to measure things,

  • but we shouldn't forget that we can do an incredible amount

  • with our eyes and ears, our noses and our mouths.

  • There are hardly any idyllic places like this left in Germany: 99% of bogs

  • have been drained and thus destroyed. This has made

  • them climate killers - because all the peat that a bog like this stores

  • is then gradually released into the atmosphere.

  • That's pure stored carbon. Half of this plant matter consists of carbon

  • and that is stored away. It then grows up layer by layer. With us in

  • in the order of 1/2 mm to 1 mm per year. Over thousands of years these

  • layers are meters thick and contain a great deal

  • of carbon. That is pure climate protection.

  • This only applies to intact bogs. Since almost all bogs in Germany have

  • been drained, they give off a lot of greenhouse gases -

  • almost 6% of total emissions. More than air traffic.

  • We calculated that if we restore water to drained bogs, we will be able to

  • compensate for even more than the warming caused by CO2

  • emissions since the industrial revolution. So bog re-wetting

  • is a very important stepalong with creating cooling systems

  • for a world that is getting warmer anyway.

  • That would be desirable. But how would it be

  • possible to restore bogs to their natural

  • state in an industrialized country like Germany?

  • The largest oil and gas deposits in the North Sea are here, off the coast

  • of Stavanger in Norway. The plans would mean pumping would

  • continue here, but in the opposite direction,

  • after those deposits are eventually

  • exhausted. But would the CO2 from European industry really stay

  • underground or would it become a time bomb?

  • I think we can use the example that oil

  • and gas is in the ground and it stays

  • there until we try to take it out. And

  • what we doing essentially is the reverse.

  • We're placing CO2 in the ground.

  • The headquarters of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate

  • is also here in Stavanger. It makes decisions on the resources under

  • the North Sea, issues drilling licenses and inspects rock formations.

  • Fridtijov Riis is a geologist who has long been searching in the drill

  • core archive for the optimum sediment into

  • which the first industrial carbon dioxide will be injected.

  • We have been looking at possible storage options for many years.

  • I think I started with this in 2006. And one of the first suggestions

  • from our side was this Johanson formation because it's one

  • of the good sandstones. I can touch it, feel it,

  • I feel this is sand with a lot of pore space between the grains.

  • Under the North Sea, the pores of the sandstone

  • are filled with water. Most of the injected

  • CO2 dissolves in itturning it into sparkling water.

  • The bigger the pores, the easier the gas can spread.

  • You can test it with your own, just blowing it and see if you can get

  • some air through it.

  • This is quite good.

  • I don't need to get too much force on my blow to get the air through.

  • The Johanson Formation, which is intended to absorb the CO2,

  • lies below the Troll Field: a gas deposit that contains another

  • 30 years' supply of the fossil fuel. In between

  • are several layers of dense shale rock.

  • The Base of the Johanson formation is this red, somewhere in this area.

  • Because of the gas production from the Troll field, the

  • pressure is falling in these more shallow reservoirs, that means

  • even if there should be a little bit of leakage of CO2 from this one,

  • it cannot escape from the under pressure in the overlaying sands.

  • So far everything has been going well with the storage of CO2 in Norway.

  • At the Sleipner gas drilling platform, more than 1 million tons of CO2

  • have been pumped back underground every year for 25 years.

  • The Northern Lights project aims to start with 1.5 million tons per year.

  • If you look at the sheer magnitude of the problem globally there is a

  • need for thousands of facilities and we're talking hundreds of

  • millions of tons per year. That needs to be handled.

  • Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, has also been researched in Germany.

  • A 2017 experiment was a success. The CO2 remained

  • in the ground under Ketzin, in eastern Germany, but it raised fears

  • of earthquakes and escaping gases. Since then, the storage

  • of CO2 has been politically dead in Germany.

  • Even research is essentially prohibited.

  • In Ketzin, where I was also deeply involved in the safety concept,

  • I would have gladly built a house close to the storage facility at any

  • time without any worries. I would have been worried if I'd

  • put it in the wrong place in the wrong way with the wrong partner.

  • For Frank Schilling it is clear that countries like Germany that emit a lot

  • of CO2 also have to take responsibility

  • for it. He says CCS is indispensable.

  • There are estimates that in Europe we have enough storage space for

  • 1000 years for our CO2 emissions. At the moment we have CCS as

  • a good alternative. If someone has a better one in 30 years,

  • all the better. But right now we have to improve the technology

  • so that it is safe and also controlled safely.

  • Hans Joosten's top priority when it comes to climate protection is to

  • return the bogs to their natural state and thus stop their CO2 emissions.

  • Here in the Recknitz region near Rostock on the eastern German coast he

  • is researching how a re-wetted bog can

  • become a CO2 store again in the long term.

  • The Tribsee Bog was drained over the centuries. This allowed oxygen

  • to penetrate the bog soil and break it down. That released

  • a lot of carbon. It was re-flooded 20 years ago.

  • During the period it was without water, it was a system in decline.

  • We have calculated that we lost 2.7 meters of

  • peat at this location over the last few decades.

  • And now we are looking to see whether we can not only stop these

  • processes, but also turn them around in order to get new

  • peat formation at higher water levels.

  • The scale of the problem is vast: Half of northern Germany has been

  • drained to grow potatoes or corn, or to graze animals. Each hectare

  • then emits as much CO2 in a single year - 29 tons -

  • as a car does in a typical lifespan of 200,000 kilometers.

  • In Hankhausen in the northwest, landscape ecologist Gerald Jurasinski

  • is investigating what happens when a drained bog is flooded again.

  • He discovered that at first it produces methane -

  • another very dangerous greenhouse gas.

  • But after a few years the methane emissions decrease

  • and then the bog begins to store CO2 over the long term.

  • We have just extrapolated that, for all

  • areas that are currently drained globally.

  • And you can see very clearly that the faster we return

  • water to the bogs, the better it is for the climate.

  • Drained bogs make up seven percent of arable land in Germany.

  • Is it even possible to turn back time?

  • If we take climate protection seriously, we have no alternative.

  • When you understand that agriculture on bogs in Germany causes

  • annual climate damage of 7.4 billion euros - which corresponds

  • exactly to the total added value of the whole of agriculture - then you

  • have to ask yourself: what are we doing here? Why is it that an

  • activity that causes 7, 8, 9 thousand euros damage per hectare is

  • allowed, and even subsidized. Because of course these greenhouse gases

  • that are emitted must be compensated for somewhere else.