Norway's moon shot

Who says burying carbon dioxide in caverns beneath the sea will never work? Norway's been doing it for a decade


Andrew Leonard
March 6, 2008 1:32AM (UTC)

Gassnova, Norway's state-run center for sustainable gas technologies, announced on March 5 that it had selected four industrial groups to compete for a contract to build a carbon capture and sequestration system at a new gas-fired power plant in Kaarstoe, Norway.

The goal is to capture carbon dioxide generated by the power plant and bury it offshore in North Sea oil and gas fields.

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"It is our vision that within seven years we will have put in place capture and storage technology," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said in January 2007. "This is a major project for our country. It is our moon landing."

How the World Works took note of this news, both because we are generally interested in anything that socially responsible Norway is up to and because we were under the impression that carbon sequestration technologies were nowhere near ready for implementation, and might not even ever be feasible. But here Norway is, proceeding full speed ahead with the implementation of a plan that has been in the works for years.

So imagine our surprise upon learning that Norway's state-owned oil company, StatoilHydro, has already sequestered some ten million tons of carbon dioxide offshore, in a sandstone formation 1000 meters under the seabed, near the Sleipner offshore gas platform. StatoilHydro started burying CO2 beneath the ocean all the way back in 1996.

How prescient! But perhaps not so surprising. Norway first imposed a stiff carbon tax of $50 a ton on its oil and gas industry in 1991, providing a significant impetus for the industry to minimize its emissions.

1991! In the United States, a "carbon tax" is seen as a death knell for any politician so foolhardy as to endorse such an economy-killing idea. The people would never stand for it, and the energy industry would fight to the death to stop any such madness.

Funny thing, though. Finland instituted a carbon tax on fossil fuels in 1990 -- the first country to do so. Norway and Sweden followed in 1991, and Denmark and the Netherlands in 1992.

And somehow, all those nations have managed to survive.

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Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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