Carbon capture is yet another climate change plan that doesn’t include reducing emissions. Instead, it involves capturing and separating carbon dioxide from the air, storing it far away from the atmosphere, and often eventually injecting it into oil reserves to enhance oil recovery.
Although carbon capture has been used by the oil and gas industries for decades, people have only recently begun seriously considering using carbon capture to prevent climate change. So, is it the answer to global warming?
Carbon Capture Gathers Momentum
On June 27, the Senate passed the USE IT, a bipartisan bill that supports carbon capture research and infrastructure. The USE IT bill would promote building pipelines to transport carbon dioxide and facilities to capture and store carbon dioxide. Across the globe, the United Kingdom also awarded 26 million euros to companies building carbon capture technology.
Government credits are often necessary to fund expensive carbon capture projects. Carbon capture costs around $60 to $70 per ton of CO2 for oil and natural gas companies. At those prices, it often isn’t economically viable for energy companies to invest in carbon capture. However, in February 2018 Trump signed a bill that provided tax credits for storing and reusing carbon.
Since then, private oil companies have invested more heavily in carbon capture projects. Occidental Petroleum Corporation, a multibillion-dollar oil company, recently invested in a carbon capturing plant that would pull in 500,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Does It Actually Stop Climate Change?
Unfortunately, carbon capture is no silver bullet. Oil and gas companies ultimately use captured carbon to extract more oil or gas. This oil or gas releases more carbon after being burned. However, one could argue that this oil would have been extracted whether or not carbon capturing existed. Therefore it’s difficult to tell whether carbon capturing reduces overall carbon emissions.
Even with heavy investments in carbon-capturing technology, these industries will still release significant amounts of other greenhouse gases that won’t be mitigated by carbon capture. The process of carbon capture can also release other pollutants into the air.
Furthermore, investments and government credits for carbon capture may trade off with investments in renewable energy.
Still, carbon capture is one of the few climate change reducing policies that has bipartisan support in the United States. The oil and gas industries probably won’t be going anywhere in the next few years either, so many scientists believe carbon capture must be part of our nation’s climate change prevention plan.
Prospects for Carbon Capture
Carbon capture could effectively combat climate change if companies used stored carbon for purposes other than extracting oil and gas. Climeworks, a Swiss company, plans to sell pure carbon or use carbon to create synthetic fuels. The beverage and botany industries often use pure carbon, but profits from selling carbon hardly offset capturing costs.
Creating synthetic fuel is also hardly economically viable at the moment. However, a combination of improved technology and government kickbacks could someday make synthetic fuel a promising carbon-neutral fuel source.
But until that day, carbon capture will likely remain a mitigating force in the oil and gas industries rather than a powerful tool for reversing climate change.