At the COP26 summit last week, human rights activists presented Norway with their “Fossil of the Day” award. It is a commendation that the new government of Oslo would have done without their first international tour. But it highlights the challenges that Norway faces, as a major oil producer, and especially the EU, whose economy relies heavily on gas.
Mu a punchy first interview, Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s new prime minister, told the Financial Times that the green revolution in Europe required his country to continue digging. The rapid depletion of Norwegian hydrocarbon products, he said, “could halt the industrial changes that are needed” to decarbonise.
True, a selfish argument. It flies in front of the International Energy Agency’s roadmap to zero, which demands no more investment in oil and gas. It is also opposed to the EU quixotic requirements to be able to produce hydrocarbon in the Arctic.
That being said, an argument can be justified. It is technically correct, instead of natural gas instead of coal and oil it is necessary to reduce emissions. It captures the realities of the political economy of the countries that export oil and gas. Even many climate activists, such as the Norwegian, do not have as many archaeologists as they do. It shows the political reality: Norway’s low air pressure could make Europe more reliant on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Above all, it reveals the political complexity of the EU’s green goals. The purpose of decarbonise is true. But the continent is heavily dependent on natural gas, and would be much more efficient in extracting coal.
And yet, short-term thinking comes with long-term contradictions. If the EU promotes gas sales to meet short-term needs, it could restrict its long-term dependence on gas. The issue of gas as a power plant contradicts the fact that no one builds a gasfield ready to shut down after five or ten years. As a result, the EU and Norway are caught up in a false embrace, with the North Sea gas set to power European homes and businesses for a long time.
There is a way out, as both sides will know. Natural gas should not be burned for its energy. It can act as a hydrogen food. If the air is trapped and stored (CCS) during this time, the “blue” hydrogen that comes from the source of the carbon dioxide energy.
The technology is available for use in driving heavy vehicles that are not suitable for batteries, ships and the means of high-industrial industries such as steel. Instead, some scenarios are difficult to make in any other way, and CCS is ine qua no if carbon dioxide may be possible.
What is needed is construction and the market. Converting a gas from a combustible energy source to a hydrogen feedstock requires transport and storage of hydrogen and CO2, and carbon offsets. Such costs are difficult to justify unless adequate demands are met.
This is a problem with chicken and egg. In order to meet the demand, it is necessary to adapt the bulk of the hydrogen-driven technologies into the appropriate components. This is economically viable as long as consumers are confident that hydrogen is coming.
It is the power of the EU to create a market. It is part of the global gas industry to ensure that more hydrogen is available. But to accomplish all of this, they must jump to conclusions.
The EU has a great responsibility to make this happen. It has a hydrogen method. But talk to the public and private decision makers in Norway, and I doubt that the EU means business is very close. He doubts whether Europe is embroiled in controversy over the difficult decisions that are needed, such as the carbon footprint that stings. And did Europe fully approve of blue hydrogen and CCS, or was it married to “green” hydrogen produced by hydroelectric water? That decision would have been as disappointing as Germany’s transition to nuclear power, which led to the use of more coal.
If the EU were to commit to blue hydrogen, and put its money in its mouth, it would need a similar commitment to deliver from Norway. Instead of restricting Arctic exploration, it would require a law to allow only the extraction of gas and building materials that could be rapidly converted into blue hydrogen production and gas storage.
Politically, or legally binding, tools can be found that assure each party that demand and delivery will come. For Oslo, such a plan provides an agreement with those who want oil to be removed. It may be allowed to return his Glasgow award.