Story at a glance…
Almost all CO2 stored underground is done parallel with natural gas extraction.
These projects, according to a rigid new analysis, should not be looked upon as a solution to climate change.
Many have failed entirely, underperformed, or pushed market demand to exporters who don’t sequester carbon.
An examination of flagship carbon capture projects has shown that they significantly underperform commercially and technically as a mitigating solution to climate change.
The report also found that the vast majority of CO2 captured from the atmosphere has been sequestered in the ground by oil companies, specifically ExxonMobil (40%), as a means to increase production in declining oil wells. The CO2 is trapped, but doing so enhances the production of fossil fuels.
Conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), they detail that 72% of all carbon captured from the atmosphere, or from going into the atmosphere, for the purpose of sequestering underground, was done so to enhance the production of oil wells, known in the industry as Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOC).
According to estimates, humanity has placed 300 million metric tons of carbon underground for various reasons. Less than 1% of these have been the depositing of atmospheric CO2, i.e. anthropogenic emissions, into underground silicate aquifers for more-or-less eternal storage.
Some of these projects have failed, others simply underperformed. The IEEFA investigated why, and whether this strategy is even economically viable in the first place.
Often the carbon that humanity has captured didn’t come from the air, but out of natural gas extraction. Raw natural gas can contain anywhere from 3% to 80% CO2, which needs to be removed to produce a marketable gas for distribution through pipelines, or liquefied in LNG plants for export.
By creating vast carbon-capture facilities like the Shute Creek Treating Facility, which captures 7 million metric tons per annum of CO2, a byproduct CO2 commodity became invaluable during the oil shock of the 1970s. Used in declining American oil wells, the compressed CO2 was deposited underground in order to squeeze more hydrocarbons out for extraction.
“As our report shows, carbon capture for storage has been around for decades, mostly serving the oil industry through EOR,” said report author Bruce Robertson. “Around 80–90% of all captured carbon in the gas sector is used for EOR, which itself leads to more CO2 emissions”.
Shute Creek for example went online in 1987, and since then it has always produced more CO2 than it sequestered, sometimes by a factor of 50% according to company data. Coupled with downstream emissions from the additional oil that was produced by EOR and then burned, there’s no reason to suggest that this roundabout way of preventing emissions is doing anything to prevent climate change.