Gas safety regulations should be updated to spur the development of low carbon heating by allowing the pipe network to transport hydrogen, MPs have been told.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committee held the first evidence session of its inquiry into carbon capture and storage (CCS) yesterday (6 November).

Professor Stuart Haszeldine, director of Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage alliance of universities and research institutes, told the committee that the gas safety rules are a major blockage to the decarbonisation of the heating network.

The specification of the existing regulations, which is based on the very pure natural gas produced in the North Sea, meant the pipe network could not be used to transport hydrogen, he said: “At the moment it’s not legal to put hydrogen into that network so the government needs to change the regulations.”

The changes, which would require parliamentary approval, to the gas safety management regulations have to be in place before the beginning of the industry’s next price control period, Haszeldine suggested.

He said: “We need to permit hydrogen. Unless the government does that in the next year or two, those industries will enter their regulatory period for cost control and they will be constrained for another five to seven years.”

As an example of the problems presented by the regulations, he said Scottish Gas Networks had to seek a special derogation to pipe in liquid natural gas for 20,000 households in the west of Scotland.

Haszeldine said that a third could be slashed from the cost of the ground-breaking Acorn CCS project in north east Scotland.

He said the cost of the project to transport carbon dioxide captured at the St Fergus gas terminal under the North Sea could be cut from £450 million to £300 million by reusing existing oil pipework which faces decommissioning as production winds down.

The opportunity to make the savings could be lost if the project, which its backers claim could be operating by 2023, is delayed, Haszeldine said: “It will become more expensive if we wait for two to three years.”

He added that natural processes are not sufficient to sequester the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions.

Haszeldine, who is also professor of carbon capture and storage at the University of Edinburgh, said that each UK resident’s annual emissions would require a forest covering the equivalent of three Wembley stadiums.

Even covering three-quarters of the UK’s landmass in trees, which would leave only a quarter for food production, would just balance out the country’s transport emissions.

Luke Warren, chief executive of the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, called on the government to accept the recommendation from its own CCS cost challenge taskforce to develop at least two clusters to develop the technology.

He said the UK has one-third of Europe’s carbon dioxide storage capacity, and as much as the rest of the EU combined.

What to read next