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3000 billion tons of coal off Norway's coastline

Fifty years from now, oil producing rigs could be setting coal on fire far below the sea, rather than pumping oil.

Burning coal where it is is one way Norwegian oil company Statoil thinks that the vast coal-reserves on the Norwegian shelf can be utilized.

This summer, students from Norwegian University of Science and Technology analyzed data from 600 wells drilled on the Norwegian Shelf of the North Sea. They calculated that there are 3000 billion tons of coal off the Norwegian coast. Most of the reserves are located at Haltenbanken. This compares to today's proven and recoverable world reserves of 900 billion tons of coal.

Inject oxygen

Geologists have known for a long time that there are vast amounts of coal in the North Sea. What we have done now, is to estimate how much there actually is, says energy advisor with Statoil New Energy, said Olav Kårstad.

"By injecting oxygen, we can ignite the coal where it is. This will produce a mix of gas which we can recover and use for energy-production. The problem however, is that one of the components of this gas mix will be the greenhouse gas CO2. We have to research a lot before we can utilize the resource in a way that doesn't harm the environment."

When can this be done? "Perhaps in a generation. It's impossible to say for sure at the time being", says Kårstad.

Statoil is currently evaluating what to do with the new knowledge.

"We have to map the reserves better, but we still haven't decided if we are going to continue working on this. What's important to us now, is that Norway as a nation knows that the resources are there", Kårstad says. He also believes that technology for exploiting the coal reserves underground must be developed on land, and then be further optimized for use on coal offshore.

"This will probably be similar to the development of the oil industry after the North Sea oil reserves where discovered. Noone thougt it would be possible to drill on water that deep, but today we are drilling far deeper, down to depths of 2 and 3.000 metres."

Leader of Norwegian environment watchdog Bellona, Frederic Hauge, thinks that the coal reserves could be utilized in another way.

"We could inject CO2-gas in the vast coalfields, and separate methane from the coal. This will not be possible for quite some time, maybe it will happen in 30 years", Hauge admits.

CO2-cleaning

Hauge thinks this proves how important it is to research technology for CO2-cleaning of the future gas powerplants that can burn the methane. We have to extract the CO2-gas to reinject it in the coal fields. This can be done simultaneously with development of CO2-cleaning, Hauge says.

The amount of energy in the methane we can extract from the coal, far exceeds the the energy in today's known Norwegian oil and gas fields, Hauge finishes.

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Verdens Gang is Norways largest daily newspaper.

Translation thanks to Ole Morten Tjore

Editorial Notes: Reuters have also carried an article about these estimates, Norway Has Vast, Inaccessible Seabed Coal – Statoil. It emphasises the point that:
"Of course the coal off Norway is terribly inaccessible. None of the resources are economically retrievable with today's technology," Kaarstad said.
This might come as something of a relief given that the proposed methods of extracting energy from the coal would themselves be extremely energy and greenhouse gas intensive, and the size of the reserve gives it potential to completely devastate climate conditions, while the carbon sequestration methods mentioned are still very speculative. -AF

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