Majority of carbon capture plants used to extract more fossil fuels

By agency reporter
January 13, 2021

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) cannot be relied on to deliver global 2030 emissions reductions, whilst the majority of CCS that exists is being used to extract more oil, according to a new report by climate scientists. Achieving ambitious emissions reductions over the next decade is critical to meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

CCS involves separating and capturing carbon dioxide from other gases before it enters the atmosphere, converting the gas into a liquid form for transport by pipeline or tanker. The carbon dioxide is then to be pumped deep underground with monitoring essential to ensure long-term storage

Commissioned by Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland, and carried out by the world-renowned climate change research centre, Tyndall Manchester, the research found:

  • There are just 26 CCS plants in operation globally, which are only able to capture 0.1 per cent of annual global emissions from fossil fuels. There is no operational CCS capacity in the UK or the European Union at all.
  • 81 per cent of carbon captured to date has been used to extract more oil via the process of Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) and between now and 2030, planned CCS will continue to be dominated by EOR. This means CCS is being predominantly used for carbon emitting oil extraction that would not have otherwise been possible.
  • Current CCS capacity in the energy sector is just 2.4 million tonnes of carbon per year (Mtpa), despite at least 310Mtpa projected by 2030, according to the International Energy Agency – a 129-fold increase over the next 10 years.

This new report comes as governments and the fossil fuel industry consistently talk up CCS as a way of combating climate change. In the UK Government’s recent climate plan, the Prime Minister pledged £200 million investment into CCS initiatives and an Energy White Paper published in December said the Government wanted four CCS clusters by 2030. The European Commission's revised key energy infrastructure policy – TEN-E – allows a major role for hydrogen made using CCS, potentially locking it in for years to come.

Ken Penton, Climate Campaigner at Global Witness, said: “This important new research should well and truly put to bed any claims by the fossil fuel industry that CCS is a way for them to carry on with the same climate-wrecking policies they always have. It is perverse that the world's biggest polluters are in fact using CCS to extract more fossil fuels, creating more emissions.”

“CCS has been discussed for over four decades and never matched the lofty promises made by its proponents. Time is against us, and even if there were an astronomical acceleration in CCS deployment, the world’s 2030 climate targets still could not be met relying on CCS.”

“Tackling climate change requires transformational change of our economies and societies, with rich and powerful fossil fuel companies certainly no exception. The time has now come for governments to stop chasing the CCS unicorn and instead build vibrant renewable energy sectors and massively increase energy efficiency of homes and businesses. The best and most proven way to stop climate change is to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

The report findings warn of carbon and methane emissions associated with CCS plants themselves, whilst there are ongoing question marks over where responsibility would lie to ensure the upkeep, regulation and safety of CCS transport and storage sites.

Instead of pursuing CCS, Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland is calling on governments, in particular major CCS proponents such as the UK and EU, to focus rapidly increasing renewable energy generation and improving energy efficiency to decrease demand.

* The full report and a summary are available to download  here

* Tyndall Centre https://www.tyndall.manchester.ac.uk/

* Global Witness https://www.globalwitness.org/en/


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