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The Futility of Carbon Capture and Storage

Geoff Strong and Richard van der Jagt

August 10, 2023.
Republished with permission from the Hill Times.

Federal tax dollars directed to Carbon Capture and Storage at Source (CCS) are a direct subsidy to a very profitable but toxic fossil fuel industry. The Canadian government has poured billions into this unproven technology, ostensibly to counter present annual carbon emissions (~700 MT Canada, ~40 GT globally). This provides fossil fuels with a delay period for carbon emissions to continue unabated through 2050. The 2023 federal budget includes a further $83 billion in clean investment tax credits. Some of this may go to further subsidize CCS, with the rest going towards clean electricity, clean-tech manufacturing, and hydrogen projects. 

Virtually all CCS facilities are owned and operated by the fossil fuel industry, and reported results are difficult to verify. The fossil fuel industry is focused on profit, so that most captured carbon dioxide (CO2) is not stored below ground; rather, it is pumped below oil and gas wells to improve their efficiency. The status of the pumped CO2 remains uncertain, but it likely finds its way back into the atmosphere with little positive impact on climate change. 

There have been development plans to construct 135 CCS facilities worldwide, with varying reports of only 16 to 27 facilities (we assume 25 here) remaining operational, far under their plans. These high-profile CCS cancellations and government funding programs, including Canada’s, have not delivered on promises to clean up a dirty industry.

Just how effective are CCS facilities in capturing CO2?

Shell Oil’s Alberta-based Quest project for CCS was built at a cost of $1.3 billion, 70% of which was financed by Alberta and federal governments. Shell reported in 2021 that Quest had captured and safely stored five million tonnes of carbon dioxide in the previous five years, an average of one million tonnes per year. If the existing ~25 global operational CCS projects were equally successful, collectively they would capture 25 million tonnes of CO2 per year. Given annual global emissions of near 40 GT (40,000,000,000 tonnes), that total capture amounts to a mere 0.06% of global emissions. To raise that rate to capture just 10% of annual emissions (4 billion tonnes) would require 4000 CCS facilities, assuming most were at major industry emitters. They would build these at enormous cost, more than $5 trillion at the Quest rate, so that carbon emissions might continue unabated. Clearly, it is ludicrous to continue to support CCS technology. Moreover, these expensive CCS facilities will become redundant and useless if humankind successfully achieves the carbon neutrality necessary for our future survival.

Government approval and support for CCS allows the fossil fuel industry to continue to emit greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. They fail to consider the fact that fossil fuels also release poisonous non-greenhouse gases, such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. Thus, fossil fuels degrade human health and that of future generations while warming our climate to intolerable levels through the release of greenhouse gases. CCS is a wasteful green-washing program.

The only practical choice now available to the world is a rapid replacement of fossil fuel energy with renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric), while ending support for fossil fuels. Although initial capital money and natural resources are required to set up microgrids of renewables, nature provides renewable energy for free. It is inexhaustible and is a proven and safe alternative to fossil fuels. The goal should be to help restore a stable global climate, while providing a much healthier environment, free from air, water, and land pollution.

Dr. Geoff Strong is a climate scientist in Duncan BC.
Dr. Richard van der Jagt is an adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa ON.