78% of carbon capture projects used to boost oil production
The vast majority of carbon capture projects that currently turn a profit are reportedly contributing directly to the production of oil. Sigh.
The phrase ‘one step forward, two steps back’ feels particularly apt when delving into the inner workings of carbon capture — in its current form, anyway.
Despite a global consensus that decarbonisation technology is required to remain within the remit of net zero targets, paradoxically 78% of carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects are actually boosting the oil and gas industry.
Every year, roughly 49 million metric tons of carbon dioxide could be manually sequestered — which accounts for around 0.13% of the globe’s 37 billion metric tons created from various industries.
While 42 operational CCS facilities have the potential to reach this volume, a recent report claims that 30 (accounting for 78% of the captured emissions total) are utilising their carbon for enhanced oil recovery.
This process involves injecting the CO2 recovered from, say, an industrial smokestack directly into an oil well to lower the supply’s viscosity and push additional oil to a production wellbore.
In an environmental sense, it’s preferable to drilling for oil in another spot entirely, but it’s far from climate friendly. On the flip side, the remaining 12 companies locking their emissions underground may be doing the honest thing, but they likely aren’t turning a profit. It appears cheaters do in-fact prosper.
In order to end this disparity, developers within the emerging market are calling for a carbon price, either in the form of a carbon tax or tax break, so that revenue can be generated without the need to cut corners, ecologically speaking.
CCS costs range from $15 to $130 per metric ton of captured carbon, and direct air capture projects — of which 27 have been commissioned — at between $600 and $1,000 per metric ton. On the latter, those underway sequester just 10,000 metric tons each year.
Without huge government subsidies, then, surely the industry will struggle to have any real influence on international decarbonisation. All attention turns to COP28 in the UAE to see just how large an appetite world leaders have to push carbon capture forward.
In the meantime, however, environmentalists are rightly frustrated at how CCS is looking increasingly like yet another form of lifeblood for the oil and gas industry. We’re supposed to be pivoting away from fossil fuels, after all, not making our current practices slightly less damaging.
The International Energy Agency concurs, ridiculing the introduction of CCS as a green initiative earlier this month. It labelled CCS as ‘an illusion’ propagated by oil and gas giants for their own benefit.
Is there genuine hope for carbon capture to become part of the solution to climate change, or have we simply been fooled? We don’t have to wait very long to find out.