A Matter of Fact: Attack on carbon capture and storage filled with misinformation

Experts say it will be 'virtually impossible' to meet GHG reduction targets without CCS

By Deborah Jaremko
The Quest CCS facility - part of the Athabasca Oil Sands Project - has safely sequestered more than six million tonnes of CO2 in its six years of operations. Photo courtesy Shell

Anti-oil and gas activists are going against the views of the world’s leading energy bodies – including the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency – and calling for an end to carbon capture and storage (CCS) development.

CCS is a proven technology to lower greenhouse gas emissions around the world, and expansion of CCS projects is seen as critical to the world meeting its GHG reduction targets.

“Renewables alone can’t resolve the net zero emissions challenge. We have to think in terms of carbon avoidance and carbon removal. That means accelerating the upscaling of carbon capture and storage, starting now,” analysts with Wood Mackenzie said this month.

Here’s what the Centre for International Environmental Law said about CCS, and why they’re flat out wrong.

CCS is unnecessary.

Wrong. It will be “virtually impossible” to achieve the GHG emission reduction targets set out in the Paris agreement without CCS, according to the IEA.

The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, which aligns with Paris goals, calls for a dramatic expansion of global CCS to reach storage capacity of 5.6 gigatonnes per year in 2050, compared to about 40 million tonnes per year today.

That’s increasing CCS capacity to the equivalent of taking about 1.2 billion cars of the road annually in 2050, from about 8.7 million in 2020.

The Global CCS Institute estimates this level of CCS development would require a 100-fold increase in the number of CCS facilities worldwide, to more than 2,000 in 2050 compared to 26 operating projects today.

The Institute says CCS is essential because it achieves deep decarbonization in hard-to-abate industries like cement, iron and steel; enables low-cost, low-carbon hydrogen production; provides low-carbon flexible power that cannot be provided by renewable sources; and is the foundation for technology-based carbon dioxide removal systems like direct air capture.

CCS is also a driver of economic growth and employment, the Institute says. To reach the levels of development in the IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario, it will require up to 100,000 construction jobs and 40,000 operator jobs in 2050.

CCS can also create new net-zero industries, enable infrastructure re-use, and sustain jobs in existing industries while contributing to a net-zero economy, the Global CCS Institute says.

CCS does not work/ CCS will do little to reduce industrial emissions.

Wrong. CCS projects are successfully reducing industrial emissions around the world.

Projects in Canada are achieving milestones. The world’s largest CO2 pipeline – the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line – reached the landmark of safely storing one million tonnes of CO2 ahead of schedule in March 2021, less than one year after starting operations. That’s the equivalent of taking about 350,000 cars off the road.

Also in Alberta, the Quest CCS facility has safely captured and stored more than six million tonnes of CO2 in its six years of operations. That’s the equivalent of taking about 1.3 million cars off the road.

In Saskatchewan, the Weyburn CCS project has safely stored more than 34 million tonnes of CO2 since 2000, or the equivalent of taking about seven million cars off the road.

In Norway, the world’s first commercial CCS project, Sleipner, has safely stored more than 24 million tonnes of CO2 since it started operating in 1996, or the equivalent of removing 5.2 million cars off the road.

In total, that’s four projects out of 26 around the world that together have reduced GHG emissions by the equivalent of taking nearly 14 million cars off the road.

CCS makes dirty energy even more dangerous for frontline communities.

Wrong. CCS is safe. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that existing CO2 pipelines – mostly in areas of low population density – have “very low” accident numbers, with risks for local communities “similar to or lower than” that posed by existing hydrocarbon pipelines.

“Transporting CO2 is not viewed as a technical challenge” for pipeline operators, according to the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), which has invested more than $1 billion into CCS research over the past two decades.

Studies have also shown that the storage aspect of CCS is sound. Research at Weyburn led by the IEA indicated that over 98 per cent of the injected CO2 will remain trapped in the reservoir after 5,000 years.

“Geological storage of CO2 has been a natural process in the Earth’s upper crust for hundreds of millions of years,” says an April 2020 NETL report.

Projects supported by the U.S. Department of Energy and other organizations around the world injected more than 25 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 with “no adverse impacts to human health or the environment,” the report said.

Most CCS benefits polluters.

Wrong. CCS benefits society. According to the NETL, CCS is an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “without provoking undue detriment to global economies.”

The IEA says CCS is the most cost-effective approach in many regions to curb heavy industrial emissions like iron, steel and chemicals manufacturing. It can also support a cost-effective rapid scale-up of low-carbon hydrogen for use in transportation, industry and buildings, the agency says.

The Global CCS Institute says projects can also help long-term employment stability.

“Jobs created in the low-carbon economy may not occur at the same time as job losses in high-emission industries,” the Institute said in a 2020 report.

CCS helps by “enabling existing industries to make a sustained contribution to local economies while transitioning to a net-zero economy.”

CCS can also create opportunities for new industries that utilize the CO2 waste stream to create value-added products.

Consider the recently completed NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, where teams in Alberta and Wyoming competed for a total $20 million purse to see who could convert the most CO2 into the highest value products.

The two winners both developed solutions aimed at reducing CO2 emissions from concrete, which is the world’s most abundant human-made material and accounts for seven per cent of global GHG emissions, the XPRIZE Foundation said in a statement.

XPRIZE finalists also included teams that created products including hand sanitizer, vodka and sunglasses using CO2 that would have otherwise been released to the atmosphere.

We don’t need to fix fossil fuels; we need to ditch them.

Wrong. The long path to a net zero world requires oil and gas. There is no switch to flip that will transform the world’s energy systems overnight, or even over the coming decades. CCS is part of the solution to significantly reduce GHG emissions.

Even in the IEA’s aggressive (and unlikely) net zero scenario, in 2050 the world will continue to demand 24 million barrels per day of oil and 169 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

The scale of the GHG reduction challenge requires the oil and gas industry to be firmly on board, according to IEA executive director Fatih Birol. Without the sector’s input, critical technologies like CCS and hydrogen “may simply not achieve the scale needed for them to move the dial on emissions.”

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