Plans to rent out underwater caverns in the North Sea to store foreign carbon emissions are being considered by the government

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is considering the move as part of a drive to make the UK a leader in Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), creating thousands of jobs. CCS is the process of reducing emissions by recovering up to 90% of CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels and locking it deep underground.

A report for the DECC, due out yesterday, estimates using CCS on coal-fired power plants could create 50,000 British jobs by 2030 in a market worth £2.4bn a year to the UK. The review does not specify where the jobs would come from, but it is thought most would be in construction, project management and engineering.

Critics argue that, at a cost of about £1bn to retrofit a plant, CCS is too expensive to be viable, but it is thought that the price could be partly offset by charging other countries for pumping their CO2 emissions into empty oil and gas wells in the North Sea. The UK is currently banned from storing foreign CO2 by EU law, but the government hopes to find a way around the restrictions.

Kathryn Newell, deputy director of the DECC, said: “We are looking at this as part of the business case but at the moment there are regulatory issues.”

If we don’t get projects under way, we won’t have anything to showcase

Jeff Chapman, CCS Association

Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, said urgent action was needed by the government to make the job projections a reality.

Britain is running a competition to encourage construction of a 300MW demonstration plant by 2014, but the CCS industry wants more projects to get the go-ahead.

Speaking at Building’s Delivering Energy Infrastructure conference on Tuesday, Chapman said: “We have to be realistic about what the UK can deliver in CCS. If we don’t get some projects under way, then we won’t have anything to showcase.”