Ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28, the role of CCS in energy transition is widely discussed. The German E&P company Wintershall Dea, which is currently in the process of becoming a Europe’s leading gas and carbon management company, has stakes in major CCS projects in the North Sea.
We talked to Sameh Sabry, Managing Director Wintershall Dea Egypt, about the opportunities of the technology in general and its potential for Egypt.
Mr Sabry, why is Wintershall Dea focusing on CCS as technology?
At Wintershall Dea, we are not only doing business. We believe that we can make a difference to energy security and on environmental sustainability in the countries where we operate. Given the fact that fossil fuels will remain a key factor for global energy security, we are constantly questioning our role in mitigating climate change. We at Wintershall Dea are convinced that the oil and gas industry has clear solutions to offer. One of them is Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).
What is the role of CCS in the energy transition?
We believe that CCS is essential for climate goals which hardly can be reached solely through emissions reduction. Capturing and storing CO2 enables us to produce and use natural gas in the most environmentally friendly way and bring it into accord with the global climate targets. And in the future, it can be implemented in Egypt, too.
In March 2023, Wintershall Dea together with partner INEOS delivered a first CO2 injection at the Greensand CCS project in Denmark. A real milestone: a successful first full cross-border CCS value chain in Europe. For the pilot injection, first quantities of CO2 from a Belgian emitter were safely stored in the depleted Nini West oil field in the Danish North Sea. And with an annual storage capacity of up to eight million tonnes of CO2 from 2030 – more than ten percent of Denmark’s yearly emissions – the project will make a valuable contribution to European climate targets.
What takeaways and learnings have you already gained from your project participations in the North Sea?
On the journey towards our CCS business in Europe, we have learned several takeaways which can be applied globally – including in Egypt. First: knowledge and expertise matter. Our CCS activities in the North Sea are based on 60 years of subsurface analyses and monitoring as well as over 125 years of E&P business in four continents. We are one of the longest-established companies in the North Sea and have more than a century of geoscientific, petrochemical and engineering expertise.
The former production sites have a huge storage potential. That is where oil and gas come from and where CO2 can be finally stored. Throughout decades of E&P, the oil and gas industry has used traditional means as well as digital technologies to explore its concessions. This experience allows us to make thorough data-based decisions on storage potential. We believe that the data to identify storage sites already exists, but it takes experts to put the puzzle together.
Do you believe that the oil and gas companies of today will be the CCS companies of tomorrow? Do you think we will see many companies shift their business models towards CCS?
I guess it is a bit more complicated than that. The CCS value chain consists of different elements than E&P and requires different kinds of partnerships. Therefore, another learning from Greensand is: expand partnerships. Contrary to traditional E&P business, we are not responsible for the creation of the product in the CCS business. Producers are overwhelmingly heavy-emitting industries. These emissions should be captured, transported and safely stored. This needs creative thinking: Which emitters are suitable partners? Where are they located, and do they match any potential storage sites nearby? How can carbon dioxide be deployed from the production to the storage site in the most cost-effective way? In our European projects we see our role as a kind of ‘architect’ – bringing partners and parts of the value chain together to form an overall project that works.
How do you make sure that the CO2 stays under the surface offshore?
CCS is a safe technology. The idea of injecting CO2 into geological rock formations is nothing new. In fact, for decades, liquefied carbon dioxide has been injected into deposits in order to extract the remaining oil there as efficiently as possible. CCS has been used in Norway already since 1996. Wintershall Dea has gained valuable expertise as a shareholder in the Norwegian Snøhvit offshore CO2 storage facility. Since 2008, 4.7 million tonnes of CO2 have been captured and stored there.
Societies expect industry to implement the highest possible safety standards. And rightly so. At Greensand, Wintershall Dea follows the Offshore Safety Directive, which sets the highest safety standards for CO2 storage in the North Sea, certified by an independent expert in assurance and risk management. To gain trust by the broader public, it is necessary for governments to act on regulatory issues..
What type of environment should governments and decision-makers provide to incentivise the IOCs and other companies to invest in CCS?
CCS can only play its part in the Energy Transition with the right framework. In Egypt, His Excellency Tarek El Molla, Minister of Petroleum, has given a clear signal that he sees a future for CCS and wants companies to engage. That gives the market clarity and confidence. There is however a lot still to do. An investable regulatory framework needs some kind of price mechanism and incentive for CO2 capture. It needs regulation for transport and storage, and environmental regulation that creates confidence in the technology. So, there is much to do, but this challenge is not unique to Egypt. Countries around the world are also at an early stage here.
At Wintershall Dea, we are minds of engineers and pioneers at heart. This philosophy drives us every day and describes our commitment for our activities around the globe. And indeed, establishing a CCS industry resembles a pioneering act: It is a new territory which companies and governments have to work on together. Our promise is this: We will continue our valuable and trusting dialogue with Egypt in word and deed, also on the subject of CCS. Because we believe in it. And because our shared challenges require technological solutions.