Central Morecambe platform; Source: Spirit Energy

Turning depleted natural gas fields into ‘one of the biggest carbon storage and hydrogen production clusters’

UK-headquartered Spirit Energy, the joint venture company of Centrica plc and Stadtwerke München GmbH (SWM), has confirmed its plan to transform two depleted gas fields in Morecambe Bay into a carbon storage cluster.

Central Morecambe platform; Source: Spirit Energy

Spirit Energy revealed on Tuesday, 31 January 2023, plans to convert its depleted South Morecambe and North Morecambe gas fields and Barrow onshore gas terminal into a “world-class” carbon storage cluster if granted a licence by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) and subject to other regulatory approvals.

If these approvals are obtained, the UK firm believes that its project will support the UK’s net-zero ambitions along with thousands of highly skilled green jobs in Cumbria and the North West, as well as jobs in the company’s Aberdeen office. In addition, the project is expected to provide a multi-billion-pound investment in the local economy, promoting growth and further regional investment.

Jo Lappin, Chief Executive of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Major businesses like Spirit Energy are backing Cumbria and channelling billions into our local economy. This new cluster will bring immense benefits to Cumbria – not only does it promise to create thousands of local jobs, it also has the potential to attract further international investment as the carbon storage cluster develops.”

Furthermore, this cluster will provide a carbon storage solution for the UK’s industrial heartlands and is set to be “one of the biggest carbon storage and hydrogen production clusters in the UK,” according to Spirit Energy. Under current projections, the project has the capacity to store up to one gigaton of CO₂ – which equates to roughly three years’ worth of UK CO₂ current emissions.

The firm claims this will enable emitters within carbon-intensive industries, including the North West, South Wales, and the Solent, to store their carbon emissions for the long-term.  

Neil McCulloch, CEO of Spirit Energy, remarked: “Our project will introduce cost-effective decarbonisation to businesses all over the UK, with a multi-billion-pound facility which means that a connection to a CO₂ export pipeline is no longer necessary to access carbon storage.

“Our new cluster will provide a solution for the UK’s industrial heartlands to reduce their carbon emissions, while also injecting significant green investment into Cumbria and the North West of England, where we have a proud history of working closely with the community and supporting local jobs and enterprise.”

Moreover, Spirit Energy outlines that this project will be able to accept CO₂ transported by ship, thanks to the location of the site near the Port of Barrow, thus, industrial sites which do not have a direct connection to a CO₂ pipeline can access “a feasible and realistic solution to deal with their carbon emissions, remain profitable and meet climate change goals.”

The UK player points out that this project is backed by its shareholders — Centrica plc, the majority shareholder, and SWM — and will put the companies at the forefront of decarbonisation efforts in the UK.

Chris O’Shea, Chairman of the Board of Spirit Energy and CEO of Centrica plc, commented: “This new cluster is a world-leading project that will promote growth, create jobs, and support the UK’s net-zero ambitions. At Centrica, we are focused on exploring how our assets can become an integral part of the energy transition to help our customers and the business achieve net-zero. We’re pleased that this innovative project sets us up for long-term success to do just that.”

Envisioning low-carbon hub

Spirit Energy further emphasised that it was uniquely positioned to transform the gas fields, with 50 years of knowledge and data from operating the South Morecambe and North Morecambe fields. The firm intends to continue to maximise the use of the gas fields until they are fully depleted to ensure the continuity of the domestic energy supply. The work on carbon storage will take place in tandem with gas production until the facility is predicted to cease production in the second half of the decade.

With the North and South Morecambe gas fields coming to the end of their productive life, Spirit Energy underlines that this project will also harness the skills and knowledge of more than 300 workers currently based at the site and will provide continued job security with the new multi-billion-pound facility.

Simon Fell, MP for Barrow and Furness, stated: “The conversation about our climate is one which continues to, quite rightly, gather pace across Furness. I’ve long since campaigned for clean energy solutions and reducing our carbon footprint to meet the target of being net-zero by 2050. It is great, therefore, to see a project of this scale come to Barrow and I look forward to seeing it develop.

“This new cluster will put Barrow on the map as a centre for low-carbon innovation, bringing thousands of high-quality jobs to our town and across the whole of Cumbria, while also securing future employment for those already working on the gas fields.”

Additionally, the UK firm elaborates that these two gas fields have the potential to form the core of a future low-carbon hub, thanks to their location in the North West and connectivity in the area.

To this end, Spirit Energy is exploring opportunities such as blue hydrogen production, hydrogen power generation, direct air capture, and integration with renewable power generation, which could expand the cluster, working in tandem with the carbon storage facility to help realise the area’s full potential.

Regarding the Morecambe Bay gas fields in the East Irish Sea, Spirit Energy awarded a contract to Allseas in January 2021 to remove the DP3 and DP4 platforms from Morecambe Bay, which first produced gas in 1985 when the South Morecambe field came online.

After Scotland’s CessCon Decom got a contract for the onshore decommissioning, dismantling, and recycling of Spirit Energy’s Morecambe Bay DP3 and DP4 platforms, these were delivered to the yard in July 2021.