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Does the solution to global warming lie beneath the North Sea?

The Goldeneye platform went out of service in 2011 but could be reactivated. Photo: ITV News

One hundred kilometres off the coast of north east Scotland sits Goldeneye, a former gas platform which, in its heyday, supplied the population of Britain with around 5% of all the natural gas we consumed.

Goldeneye - named after a bird, like all North Sea platforms, not the Bond film - went out of service in 2011 but it may be about to get a new lease of life.

Shell flew us out to see what they say will be the world's first carbon capture and storage (CCS) project involving a gas-fired power station at Peterhead, near Aberdeen.

The reservoir beneath Goldeneye is depleted but Shell believes the soft sand that lies two and half kilometres beneath the seabed is capable of holding hundreds and millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Shell says the technology it has developed will capture 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions Peterhead throws off. The CO2 is compressed into a liquid and piped out to the Goldeneye platform, injected into the empty reservoir and kept there by a layer of rock.

Britain has signed up to legally binding targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to prevent global warming. 40% of all the CO2 Britain produces comes from power generation. We need to find a way of releasing less CO2 into the atmosphere - this sounds a rather ingenious solution.

The only snag is that the technology is bruisingly expensive (Shell won't say how expensive) and no one has yet proved that carbon capture and storage can be profitably done.

Which is where the taxpayer comes in. The Peterhead CCS project is one of two (the other is at Drax in North Yorkshire, our largest coal fired power station) which have been shortlisted for up to £1 billion of government funding.

Shell hopes its Peterhead project could be up and running within five years.

Environmental groups like Greenpeace are cynical. They tend to see renewable energy as the solution and carbon capture and storage as simply an excuse to keep burning fossil fuels but the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment told ITV News that ignoring CCS would make it much more difficult and expense avoid to prevent the temperature of the planet rising.

"We need to reduce CO2 emissions so quickly and by so much we cannot afford to ignore technologies. We need everything we can and that means carbon capture and storage, renewables and nuclear."

– Bob Ward, policy and communications director, Grantham Research Institute

The Grantham Institute believes it's right for taxpayers to be helping to develop CCS commercially but also that energy companies should be compelled to dig deeper.

It takes the view that, as it stands, at least half of the remaining oil and gas will not be burnable if we want to avoid dangerous climate change. If energy companies are to realise the value of their reserves, they need CCS technology to work.

The idea sounds seductive. 2050 looms, the need for a solution is obvious. Shell says the Peterhead project could be up and running within five years. The company will learn if it is to receive taxpayer support early next year.