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'Squeeze green oil from North Sea by squirting CO2 in' - prof

But who'd pay for the salty Perrier? Er, you would

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

This isn't 2002 - people might notice a stealth tax just now

Somehow or other the government got away with the ROC scheme without any large number of people realising they were in effect paying a substantial extra levy on their electricity: or at any rate not caring enough about it to protest much. At least in theory, a similar effort might be instituted with respect to carbon-neutral oil: If you wanted to sell oil products in the UK you might need to show a certain amount of North Sea green carbo-oil ROCs or pay a fine, as sellers in the electricity market already have to. Carbo-capture machinery might become a money-spinning generator of such valuable-by-fiat ROCs. (The chance to hit up the emitting industries for the cash has gone, as there's already an EU emissions-certificate scheme.)

The trouble with this is that unlike electricity, petrol and diesel - the main consumer oil products in the UK - are already subject to huge, crippling direct-to-the-Treasury taxes. Most consumers are already finding motor fuel eyewateringly expensive, and there have already been serious protests - people know that fuel could be a lot, lot cheaper if the government weren't making it so expensive. They might well notice and resent any stealthy attempts to make it even more so, no matter how cunning and invisible the mechanism.

Then, it's far from clear just how much serious large-scale industrial carbon capture and transmission would actually cost in real life. It's easy to believe Professor Gluyas when he says that if the carbon were there such-and-such an amount of oil could be squeezed out. But it isn't at all clear what the cost of bringing the carbon would be. The hapless motorists and hauliers of old Blighty might have to be squeezed so hard here that they would become less productive and the Treasury would lose money overall.

But surely Gluyas' plan has one concrete benefit - a lot of CO2 would not get into the atmosphere, and so global warming might be forestalled somewhat.

Unfortunately even that is far from certain: recent studies indicate that carbon shoved underground is primarily stored in the form of fizzy water, Perrier-style, which "implies the possibility of CO2 transport and eventual leakage to the atmosphere" as Professor Werner Aeschbach-Hertig of Heidelberg University commented last year.

The most solid and definite benefit offered is that the extra three billion barrels - five years' normal UK consumption - could well return us to being a net oil exporter for as much as twenty years as Professor Gluyas says it would. That might mean less (or no) need for oil imports from dodgy overseas regimes: but it would hardly allow the foreign-trade-dependent British economy to pull up its drawbridge and retreat from a troubled world.

"We need to act now," says Professor Gluyas. But his appeal is to the government, rather than the oil business: and government action in this context means ordinary people footing a large bill one way or another.

Maybe if we were all feeling rich that might be OK - but you'd have to say, right now, considering the rather sparse benefits on offer, the professor is probably out of luck. ®

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