Posted: Tue 16th Jan 2024

Opinion: Carbon Capture Plans for North Wales – An Expensive White Elephant?

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Tuesday, Jan 16th, 2024

By Carolyn Thomas, North Wales Senedd Member and former Deputy Leader of Flintshire County Councillor 

For the last couple of years here in Flintshire and surrounding areas, local communities, local authorities, politicians, town & and community councils have all been facing a political charm offensive from the carbon capture industry.

Having successfully captured the imagination of Westminster politicians with their tales of a ‘low carbon future’, the industry has now set its sights on capturing carbon dioxide in the North West of England before pumping and dumping that ‘captured’ carbon into empty gas wells off the North Wales coast.

These ‘blue hydrogen’ plans are being put forward under the ‘Hynet’ brand, an umbrella group which is funded by fossil fuel polluters such as ENI, Essar and Ineos. When I have asked Hynet about whether the workers on their project will be guaranteed union recognition or about whether they have any plants to reinvest a percentage of their profits in Flintshire and North Wales, I have received only evasion in response.

In 2021, the head of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, Chris Jackson, resigned stating: “I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on the fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals.”

Fundamentally, the project, subsidised to the tune of tens of millions by the UK taxpayer, will serve to entrench fossil fuel reliance whilst posing a significant safety risk to residents in North Wales living above, and near, the pipeline. To date, barely a single carbon capture scheme worldwide has collected as much carbon as promised.

The UK Health and Safety Executive when referring to Hynet said, ‘HSE accepts the current evidence base which indicates that CO2, as it will be processed, transported and stored as part of Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) operations, presents major hazard potential’. The odourless, colourless liquid is both an asphyxiant and intoxicant.

As part of the plans, miles and miles of Flintshire’s highways and green spaces will be ripped up to allow for the laying of the underground pipeline. As a previous Flintshire County Council Cabinet responsible for highways, I am concerned about the impact it will have on our deteriorating highway infrastructure and the impact on small businesses. There is already a congestion of underground pipes and cables beneath the highways as it is.

The pipe will transport the waste carbon dioxide out to the North Wales coast, where it will be stored permanently under the sea, but this poses a whole host of its own problems, including the risk of leakage. Already, the increased amount of carbon dioxide in our oceans is having a major debilitating impact on animal life due to the acidification of the water, as well as the global rise in sea temperatures.

Researchers for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis have stated that trapped carbon dioxide will need to be monitored for centuries to ensure it does not leak into the wider atmosphere. But despite this, ENI have said they will only monitor their carbon dioxide reservoirs off the North Wales coast for 20 years.

Just last year, 80,000 litres of oil spilt into the sea off the North Wales coast – who was responsible? You guessed it, ENI. Why should this fossil fuel polluting company be given further opportunity to cause environmental destruction across North Wales?

I believe that Hynet’s plans for North Wales fail to comply with either the ethos or the objectives of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. But more than that, their plans tell a depressing story of the exploitation of Welsh natural resources for private profit.

Flintshire will see most of the downsides of this carbon capture project, with no upsides in sight. To support such a damaging project on the basis of it providing some jobs locally is not enough, especially when it seems clear that any wealth derived from Hynet will be extracted out of Flintshire and out of Wales.

There are alternative, climate-friendlier solutions than blue hydrogen available, from turning carbon dioxide into pellets which can restore soils and increase crop yields, through to using carbon dioxide in precision fermentation to create foodstuffs. Progressive technological solutions are consistently being developed at a pace which threatens to make a large and expensive project such as Hynet obsolete.

As such, here in Flintshire, and North Wales, we have a duty to oppose this act of political, climate, and economic folly.

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