EU sets world’s first target for underground CO2 storage capacity

The European Commission set out a target on Thursday (16 March) to enable 50 million tonnes of annual carbon dioxide injection capacity by 2030, a move that puts the oil and gas industry under pressure to deliver on a technology they have been peddling for years.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is listed as one of the key technologies for the green transition in the Commission’s Net-Zero Industry Act, presented on Thursday.

And for the first time, it includes an EU-wide target to capture CO2, with a legally-binding objective of reaching an annual injection capacity of at least 50 million tonnes of CO2 by 2030.

“It is indeed a legally binding target,” said a senior EU Commission official who briefed the press on Thursday. “And it is also accompanied by an obligation for fossil fuel companies – the oil and gas producers – to contribute to that target,” the official added.

“They actually have the assets, the skills, and the knowledge to provide with storage sites.”

Earlier this month, Denmark became the first country in the world to develop a cross-border CO2 storage site, shipping CO2 from Belgium and injecting it into a depleted oil field under the Danish North Sea.

The European Commission now wants to see such projects replicated across the EU in order de-risk investments in CCS and set the conditions to ensure the technology is deployed at scale.

“The reason we do this is because CCS is part of the solutions to reach climate neutrality,” in particular for energy-intensive industries like steel, cement and chemicals which have process emissions that cannot be tackled only through electrification, the official said.

“And this is something that the oil and gas industry is very well placed to do. It’s one of the ways they can contribute positively to the transition.”

Reporting obligation

CCS is expected to grow to 80 million tonnes of CO2 in 2030 and reach at least 300 million tonnes in 2040, according to EU estimates. By mid-century, the EU would need to capture up to 550 million tonnes of CO2 annually in order to meet its objective of reducing emissions down to net zero, the Commission says.

However, it is currently confronted with a “coordination failure”, the EU executive added, because of the lack of CO2 geological storage sites available.

To scale up the technology, “the EU needs to develop a forward-looking supply of permanent geological CO2 storage sites,” the Commission argued, adding that CCS requires a “cross-border, single market approach” in order to be an effective climate solution for industries in all EU member states.

Under the Commission’s proposed regulation, EU countries would have to publish data on areas where CO2 storage sites can be permitted and report on a yearly basis about progress made with CO2 storage projects on their territory.

Oil and gas companies, for their part, are requested to submit to the Commission “a plan detailing how they intend to meet their contribution to Union CO2 injection capacity objective by 2030”, the draft regulation says.


Supporters of CCS were thrilled by the announcement and welcomed the obligation placed on oil and gas companies to provide storage facilities.

“Putting the responsibility to deal with emissions on the biggest emitters is a fantastic step,” said Eadbhard Pernot, from the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental pressure group.

“Oil and gas producers have the technology and resources to put CO2 back in the ground permanently. It’s time for them to step up and take responsibility to enable access to CO2 storage in Europe,” he said in a statement.

The oil and gas industry also commended the move, saying the EU-wide target for CO2 injection capacity will provide “a clear objective” for the sector’s decarbonisation.

“We are really encouraged to see the Act recognise the role of carbon capture and storage as a key enabler of sustainable competitiveness,” said François-Régis Mouton, Europe director at the  International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP).

According to IOGP, the EU’s ambition now “needs to be supported by incentivising policies,
enabling regulation and funding” so that CCS technology takes off on a commercial scale.

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Europe, a trade association, also welcomed the EU’s proposed carbon injection target as a “long overdue but very welcome step” that provides “the basis for a realistic European CCS deployment strategy”.

“Europe’s ambition to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 cannot be realised without extensive deployment of carbon capture technology. It is the only viable option to prevent emissions from energy-intensive industry reaching the atmosphere,” said Chris Davies, director of CCS Europe.

Not all industries were positive, though.

Ecocem, an Irish company manufacturing low-carbon cement, said CCS was unlikely to be available at scale before 2035 and called on EU policymakers to focus their attention on other solutions that can bring down emissions in the short term.

“CCS will not help the cement industry achieve the Fit-for-55 targets by 2030,” said Ecocem founder Donal O’Riain, referring to the EU’s goal of reducing emissions by 55% before the end of the decade.

According to him, the only way to rapidly address cement pollution is to minimise the clinker content, which is responsible for 94% of the sector’s emissions.

“Focusing only on CCS ignores support for oven-ready cement technologies,” he said in a statement, calling the Net-Zero Industry Act (NZIA) “a missed opportunity”.

Cleantech for Europe, a business group, was also sceptical about the CCS target, saying other solutions have greater potential.

“Completely designing out emissions from production processes is greatly preferable to capturing and storing emitted carbon, to which the NZIA attributes great importance,” the group said.

“The level of attention given to carbon capture and storage in the NZIA, should have been the level of attention given to cleantech manufacturing deployment,” it added in a statement.


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