Scientists who conducted a world-first experiment in rural Argyll have taken the unusual step of crediting a village population in its published scientific papers.
Their project, which started in 2012, investigated the environmental impact of a leak from a sub-sea carbon capture storage (CCS) system. It involved injecting 4,200 kg of carbon dioxide gas into the sediments below the seabed for a 37-day period in Ardmucknish Bay, near Tralee, Benderloch. The experiment was co-ordinated locally by Dr Henrik Stahl of the Oban-based Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), in conjunction with project leader Dr Jerry Blackford of Plymouth Marine Laboratory and other scientists from the National Oceanographic Centre, British Geological Survey and Heriot Watt and Southampton universities.
Results recently published in the respected scientific journal Nature Climate Change show there was little impact on sea life and no impact could be found on commercial shellfish species that were collected from the area around the gas release. Although some species of fish and shellfish left the immediate area of the gas release, they returned again within weeks of the gas release stopping. Dr Stahl said:
"We could see a clear but very localised signal from the carbon dioxide towards the end of the release phase, close to the injection point. But we were surprised to see how quickly this signal disappeared after the injection was stopped. The sediments have a buffering effect on the carbon dioxide, at least for a short term leak like this one."
Included in the acknowledgements sections of the many scientific papers published so far are landowners Lochnell Estate, leaseholders Tralee Bay Holiday Park and the residents of Benderloch, which lies within the Ardchattan parish area.
Jill Bowis, a member of Ardchattan Community Council, said:
"It is nice to see the community of Benderloch being acknowledged in the credits of the report on the carbon capture research. The research team did a good job of keeping people informed along the process, with open meetings, their facebook page, website and easy contacts whenever there were questions. It is reassuring to learn that the results showed minimal environmental impact and rapid recovery from the small leakages that occurred."
The findings from this research will inform decision makers involved in the development of CCS, a technique that can be used to aid the reduction carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. The process captures carbon dioxide from point-source emitters, such as power stations, and transports it to a long-term storage site, typically deep below the sea bed on continental shelves.
Dr Pete Taylor of SAMS, who also worked on the research team and is now employed by the SAMS Research Services Ltd (SRSL), said:
"It simply wasn’t possible to conduct the research in other parts of the country. We identified Ardmucknish Bay as the ideal test ground but without the support and understanding of the local community we wouldn’t have been able to go ahead. Although the test area was not used for commercial purposes, a nearby jetty was frequently used by locals for launching small boats, so the community put a lot of trust in us."
In total, more than 200 individual dives were conducted by UK scientific divers based at SAMS, recovering more than 650 samples of seabed sediment and 300 water samples. More than 500 images were taken and 1,600 metres of underwater cable was laid then retrieved.
The gas migration was tracked through the sediment using near daily seismic profiling, and into the water column using autonomous underwater vehicles, sea-floor sensors, underwater microphones and videos. During the experiment SAMS hosted more than 50 scientists, most of whom stayed in the area for longer than three months, from as far afield as Japan.
Dr Blackford said:
"The experiment has made an international impact, with results presented to researchers, governmental representatives and other stakeholders as far away as Australia, America and Japan as well as in Europe. CCS is vital if we are to meet our CO2 emission reduction targets, I’m confident that our work, facilitated by the hospitality of Benderloch, will make a real contribution in this respect."
The Scottish Centre for Carbon Storage has identified a large CCS resource – mainly offshore in the North Sea – which can accommodate Scotland’s industrial carbon dioxide emissions for the next 200 years.