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Prof. Rien Herber: ‘CO2 storage is safe, the discussion should be about financial aspects’

27 April 2010

The Netherlands has committed itself to reducing its CO2 emissions. Professor by special appointment for Geo Energy Rien Herber thinks that collecting and storing the gas is a good option. In his opinion, the safety has been satisfactorily proven. However, before we begin storage, there has to be grassroots support. We must also make far-reaching financial choices.

The very first thing we have to do is save energy. Our CO2 emissions would be significantly reduced with clever solutions on that front. In addition, we must invest in the development and scaling-up of sustainable energy. Perhaps by the turn of the next century we would then only be using sustainably generated energy. Before we reach that stage, however, says professor by special appointment for Geo Energy Rien Herber, we have to think of other ways of reducing our CO2 emissions. After all, that’s what we committed to in Kyoto. As far as he is concerned, CO2 storage is an unavoidable option.

Proven safety

Safety is definitely not the issue, Herber is convinced of that. ‘That’s been proven. In the US, Norway and Australia, CO2 is regularly stored in empty gas fields. With no problems whatsoever. Those fields have been full of gas for millions of years without anything escaping. There is simply no reason at all why gas would not but CO2 would escape from such a field.’ In theory, only at the point where the CO2 is pumped into the gas field, at the borehole, would a leak be possible, states Herber. ‘But that’s highly unlikely. We have dozens of years of experience with boreholes, on land and in the sea. They don’t leak.’

Unease remains

Although the gas field and the borehole may be safe, the unease the population feels still remains. Are the pipes used to transport the CO2 safe? The Dutch television programme Zembla recently examined this aspect, after which it was discussed in the Lower House of Parliament. Herber sees no reason for unease. ‘If you lay the pipes in concrete basins, in pipe-streets such as those we are familiar with in the Rijnmond region, there is no real reason to fear them becoming damaged. And don’t forget, CO2 has been transported through pipes in the Randstad for five or six years already, for example form Pernis to the Westland where the peppers in the greenhouses are growing like wildfire. When Queen Beatrix opened the system in 2005 it was to great applause. I’m really surprised people are now so worried.’

Grassroots support a precondition

CO2 is not inflammable, natural gas is. Nevertheless, the laying of pipes to transport CO2 is clearly a much more sensitive subject than those for regular gas transport. However illogical some of these fears may be, policymakers and industry have to take them seriously, thinks Herber. ‘Just like the production of natural gas, storing CO2 under a housing estate is definitely possible, but you have to be able to guarantee safety in the perception of the local administration and general public. So you have to have a crystal-clear story, not just about safety, but also about benefits and necessity as well as the choice of location.’

Real choices

The more fundamental discussion concerning CO2 storage should be about the financial aspects, thinks Herber. Although we may have committed ourselves as a nation to a certain CO2 reduction, the real question is how much are we willing to pay? A ton of CO2 emissions currently costs about 14 euros, whereas capturing, transporting and storing it costs about 60 to 70 euros a ton. As long as the price difference is so significant, storage is not an economically healthy option, in Herber’s opinion. Is the government going to bridge the difference? Will industry pass on the costs in the electricity bill? Will the state introduce a CO2 tax? Herber: ‘It may be that the climate aims are more important than economic considerations – but you’re then faced with far-reaching financial choices. They must be made transparent for ordinary citizens. And that’s what we should really be discussing.’

Curriculum vitae

Prof. Rien Herber (1954) became professor of Geo Energy at the University of Groningen in September 2009. After a degree in geophysics at Utrecht, he worked for the NAM and Shell for thirty years, eventually becoming Head of Exploration in Europe for Shell. At the University of Groningen, Herber is involved in the optimization of the extraction of fossil fuels and searching for new, sustainable energy sources in the earth. His research falls under the umbrella of the ESRIG research institute, which will be holding an official openings symposium on 28 April 2010.

Note for the press

More information: Rien Herber

Information about the ESRIG openings symposium

See also AdamsAppel ‘Hoe gevaarlijk is CO2?’ [How dangerous is CO2?] and the video about air sample research at ESRIG.

Last modified:04 January 2018 3.17 p.m.
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