Everybody concerned about the climate crisis we are entering would love for some form of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to work wonders. It would be so much easier to avert crisis if we could just capture carbon and re-bury or store it in some energy-efficient, cost-efficient way. But to this point, hopes of CCS being a sort of magical bullet have been little more than “magical thinking.” It simply doesn’t work as we imagine it should in our minds.
Aside from armchair reading and commentary, this is a matter that’s also battled out in discussions between scientists focused on climate solutions research. Nonetheless, the same problem arises. Some researchers are eager to just put in theoretical, ideal figures for CCS costs, energy efficiency, and capability. Others have been saying, no, look at reality and base your calculations on real-world experience. Let’s drop the magical thinking, especially in the science community.
Another thing to keep in mind is that, yes, oil companies have known about the climate threat for several decades. They have put a lot of resources into lobbying, messaging campaigns, and greenwashing in order to try to keep their businesses going as usual. If they could simply implement a magic CCS bullet and avoid all kinds of political challenges and loss of market share, they would. CCS would be going strong all around the world right now if oil, gas, and coal companies could implement it cost-effectively — or effectively at all.
That brings us to some news that a reader recently shared in the comments section under an article. Chevron has been the company behind what is reportedly the biggest CCS project in the world. It is a project in Western Australia. And apparently it’s a massive fail.
“Climate campaigners believe the company should be heavily fined after it acknowledged on Monday that it had not met a requirement to capture and inject underground at least 80% of emissions from a gas reservoir over the first five years of the Gorgon liquefied natural gas (LNG) development,” The Guardian reports. “An analysis last year suggested Chevron could face a bill of more than A$100m if required to offset all emissions that breached its approval requirements.”
How bad has the project done? It is expected that it has only captured 30% of the carbon it was supposed to capture, according to Ian Porter, a former oil and gas industry executive who is chair of the advocacy group Sustainable Energy Now WA. And Porter had some strong words on his takeaway from this story. “It’s a shocking failure of one of the world’s largest engineering projects.” His opinion is that aside from paying to remedy the emissions failure of this project, Chevron should also pay big fines.
It seems logical to throw some fines on top of this in order to help discourage companies from going down this road in the future, but there’s a bigger matter at hand. We need to stop pretending that theoretical ideals for CCS are something we can pull into real-world plans, policies, and even research reports. Until a CCS project here on Earth demonstrates a certain effectiveness and efficiency, we need to stop pretending that it’s a viable part of the solutions package or that it’ll finally come around and hit its potential next year. When I was growing up, my friend’s dad loved to repeat the phrase, “Tomorrow never comes.” The point, of course, is that tomorrow is always a day away. It’s a fun play on words/concepts, but it’s also a reminder to not pin our hopes too much on what will come in the future. Whether with CCS, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, solid-state batteries, or a large variety of other matters, there have been many years — decades even — of thinking commercially viable products are not that far away, but until something is actually here, we would be wise to not jump ahead too far in our dreams and expectations.
Porter has some great closing words on this project and the technology in general, so I’ll quote him one more time here (thanks to The Guardian for doing the legwork and eliciting the quotes): “I sincerely hope CCS does work one day. Ultimately, we need it. But until that time, it is reckless and disingenuous for the industry to keep pretending that it can expand operations and reach net zero.”
Thanks again to “john” for sharing this story in the comments.
Photo by Nadi Lindsay from Pexels (free to use)
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