In the current situation, carbon capture is another false promise when it comes to addressing the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. The industry, which is a major contributor to climate change, can now benefit from tax breaks and government funding made available for CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration) projects. A 2019 report by the Center for International Environmental Law, “Fuel to Fire” Conditions, “It is not surprising that the fossil fuel industry has invested and invested heavily in technologies that would make a fossil fuel transition less urgent.” Carbon capture is one of these technologies.
First used in 1972 at Chevron’s Terrell natural gas facility in Texas, carbon capture can remove carbon dioxide from exhaust gases from industrial facilities such as coal and gas-fired power plants, or from the ambient air. There are several techniques that have been used to capture CO2. These include: absorbing with a sponge-like material; Separation with membranes; or cooling and condensing with a cryogenic process. These processes all require a lot of energy and once the carbon dioxide is captured it is either stored or used. During storage, the gas is transported to places where it is injected deep underground into salt deposits or rock layers.
Small amounts of carbon dioxide have been used as a feedstock for chemicals or fuels, for distilling and carbonating beverages, or for use in greenhouses to promote plant growth. Transporting the gas is again associated with considerable costs, and carbon dioxide obtained in this way can quickly be released back into the atmosphere. According to a recent article in Nature Climate Change, “The tonnage of human carbon emissions simply dwarfs the tonnage of carbon-based products it consumes.”
Most of the carbon dioxide from CCS is used for improved oil recovery (EOR). During this process, pressurized CO2 is pumped into old oil field wells to remove remaining oil deposits. The majority of the world’s 21 large CCS facilities are in the US and Canada, and all but five sell or send their carbon dioxide to facilities involved in improving oil production. The carbon dioxide removed by power plants can be sold to other companies that use it for support “Neck roll” Production of older oil fields.
There are many economic, social, and environmental problems associated with using CCS to produce oil. Using the carbon dioxide to improve oil recovery does not guarantee that the gas will be permanently removed from the atmosphere. Eventually it will be released back into the atmosphere as it exits the wells and cracks. In addition, more oil can be produced, which means that we remain dependent on fossil fuels and contribute to climate change.
In the CIEL report “Fuel to Fire” Exxon said it has a working interest in a quarter of the world’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) capacity, and Shell is involved in four current CCS projects. Chevron has invested $ 75 million in CCS research over the past decade, while BP is currently a sponsor of the carbon capture project. There are economic incentives that encourage the fossil fuel industry to advocate the use of CCS. These include government programs as well as tax incentives.
In 2008, a program was set up to provide tax credits to companies using CCS. Pursuant to Section 45 Q of the Tax Code, companies could receive tax credits for capturing carbon dioxide and do one of three things with it: dispose of it in an underground safe geological location, use it for improved oil recovery, or use it in a commercial process. In 2018, the tax credits for CCS were increased from previously USD 20 per tonne to USD 50 per tonne of CO2, and the credits for carbon dioxide used in EOR were increased from USD 20 to USD 35 per tonne.
Estimates based on IRS records indicate that Exxon may have applied for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits under that law. Companies applying for the tax credit must also commit to a monitoring program through the EPA. A new industry group, the Energy Advance Center, which represents companies like Exxon, has campaigned to end surveillance programs that ensure CCS emissions do not return to the atmosphere.
In addition, CCS research projects have received significant government funding. According to the Department of Energy, CCS research projects received $ 110 million in 2019, $ 72 million in 2020, and $ 75 million as of April 2021.
Recently, US Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Capito passed legislation to increase tax credits for CCS under 45Q and 48A, tax credits for coal companies using CCS. One facet of the bill would give CCS the same tax treatment that is currently offered for wind and solar projects. This would also enable direct payment of carbon credits. No wonder many of the proponents of the Carbon Capture Utilization and Tax Credit Amendment Act come from states heavily influenced by the fossil fuel industry (West Virginia, Wyoming, and North Dakota).
Finally, there are security issues with CCS. Once the carbon dioxide is captured, it can be used or stored, but it also needs to be transported. This includes pipelines. In 2019, a 24-inch subterranean pipeline containing carbon dioxide broke in Yazo, Miss. Over 300 people have been evacuated and 46 people have been treated in hospitals. The carbon dioxide concentration was high enough to bring gas-powered car engines to a standstill. First responders said some people were passed out while others were wandering around like zombies.
In contrast to solar and wind energy, which are according to Clean Technica “Every year around 35 times as much CO2 is displaced as in the entire global history of CCS.” Carbon capture technology is still at an early stage of development. It is not ready to be used to the extent necessary to contain the climate crisis. However, it has become a distraction used by industry and governments to avoid doing what needs to be done to actually address the climate crisis in a timely manner.
Randi Pokladnik, Ph.D. from Uhrichsville, is a retired research chemist who volunteers for Mid Ohio Valley Climate Action. She has a PhD in environmental studies and is certified according to the hazardous substances regulations.