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Climate Change

Published on May 23rd, 2019 | by Michael Barnard


“That Was Quick” Category: Carbon Engineering Partners With Occidental To Pump More Oil

May 23rd, 2019 by  

In CleanTechnica’s recent 8-part case study of Carbon Engineering’s air-carbon capture and air-to-fuel technologies, part 4 dealt specifically with assessing the use cases for an air-carbon capture solution. With their technological approach, the following conclusion was reached:

an AC facility operating on low-cost ‘stranded’ natural gas that is able to provide CO2 for enhanced oil recovery at a location without other CO2 sources might be competitive with post-combustion capture in high-cost locations such as Canadian oil sands operations.

That’s a direct quote from their 2012 peer-reviewed paper on the technology, and the assessment indicated that it was the only likely viable use case and the likely primary reason for substantial investment by three fossil fuel majors, Occidental, Chevron and BHP.

Time marches on, and now this press release emerges a month after publication of that assessment.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and Carbon Engineering begin engineering of the world’s largest Direct Air Capture and sequestration plant

The companies are evaluating a facility designed to capture 500 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere each year, which would be used in Occidental’s enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations and subsequently stored underground permanently. The plant would be located in the Permian Basin.

Oxy is, of course, the new branding of Occidental Petroleum, a $17.8 billion annual revenue company with facilities in North and South America and the Middle East.

Doesn’t Occidental Petroleum’s logo make you think of laundry detergent, not a petroleum giant?

The 500 kilotonnes of CO2 is interesting. The design point in the 2018 paper was for a million ton per year solution. Having that would mean that they would be constructing a kilometer long, 20-meter high, 8-meter thick wall of fans in Texas (read into a southern wall what you will). They will consume the same natural gas as would be used for heating and cooking in 35,000 Canadian households, numbers arising from Part 2 calculations.

It’s unsurprising that the Permian Basin is the target. Even in 2012 it was the largest enhanced oil recovery region in North America with the large majority of CO2 pipelines leading to it. Yes, the cluster on the western edge of Texas is the Permian Basin.

As was pointed out in part 4 of the Carbon Engineering series:

“For every kilogramme of CO2 injected, approximately one to one quarter of a kilogramme of extra oil will be recovered.”

[…] With the 10% emissions tax on the natural gas, that means that there is zero net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere if air carbon capture CO2 is used for enhanced oil recovery. And that’s at a cost of $94 to $232 for the air carbon capture portion alone. All of the negative externalities of fossil fuels persist indefinitely.

What Carbon Engineering’s Acting Chief Scientist, David Keith, projected in 2012 and this series predicted as the primary approach earlier in 2019 is coming to fruition.

While Carbon Engineering is talking a nice carbon-removal game about displacing fossil fuels with its deeply uncompetitive air-to-fuel approach, the reality is that its solution to air-carbon capture requires a very large amount of cheap natural gas, resulting in no CO2 abatement. Whether the use case is air-to-fuel or enhanced oil recovery, there are much better options for the planet.

As a reminder, Professor Mark Z. Jacobson of Stanford’s assessment was quoted in Part 5 of the series. To paraphrase, air-carbon capture results in all of the pollution and carbon emissions of burning fossil fuels at a higher cost than just building wind and solar capacity.

The fossil fuel companies must be deeply appreciating all of the good press that they are receiving as they continue to do exactly what they’ve always done. It’s good business for them. Not so good for actual climate solutions.

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About the Author

is Chief Strategist with TFIE Strategy Inc and co-founder of two current startups. He works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth and cost takeout in our rapidly transforming world. He is editor of The Future is Electric and designing for health. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is regularly included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. He's available for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.

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