2013: Denbury fined $662,500 for Mississippi blowout of CO2 injected in high pressure enhanced oil recovery, So much carbon dioxide came out that it settled in hollows, suffocating deer and other animals
Carbon Capture and Storage by Centre for International Environmental Law July 2021
What is carbon capture and storage?
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) are processes designed to collect or “capture” carbon dioxide generated by high-emitting activities like coal- or gas-fired power production or plastics manufacturing. Those captured emissions are then transported to sites where they are used for industrial processes or stored underground.
CCS does not remove carbon from the atmosphere. At best, CCS prevents some emissions caused by the combustion of carbon-based fuels from reaching the atmosphere — provided that the captured gases are not later released.
In practice, CCS:
- Masks the harmful carbon emissions from the underlying source, enabling that source to continue operating rather than being replaced altogether.
- Generates additional risks, impacts, and costs associated with CCS infrastructure, such as pipelines.
- Exacerbates global warming by boosting oil production and prolonging the fossil fuel era.
Open letter to policymakers
On July 19th, 2021, over 500 international, US, and Canadian organizations sent an open letter to policymakers calling on them to “reject carbon capture and storage.” The letter was accompanied by ads in The Washington Post and The Hill Times.
Read statements from organizational leaders on the dangers of carbon capture.
Seven reasons why policymakers should reject carbon capture and storage
1. The buildout of CCS infrastructure presents serious health, safety, and environmental risks. Marginalized communities already overburdened by industrial hazards are being targeted for CCS.
Transporting and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) involves a massive network of perilous pipelines connected to underground injection sites, each with its own set of dangers. Pipelines can leak or rupture; compressed CO2 is highly hazardous upon release and can result in the asphyxiation of humans and animals. Underground storage poses additional risks, such as potential leakage, contamination of drinking water, and stimulation of seismic activity. These hazards apply to all the current and proposed variants utilizing CCS technologies, including carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS), fossil hydrogen with CCS (“blue” or decarbonized hydrogen), bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), coal-bioenergy systems with CCS (CBECCS), waste-to-energy with CCS (WtE-CCS), and direct air capture (DAC), which depends on CCS or CCUS to manage the captured carbon.
2. CCS is not consistent with the principles of environmental justice.
Pollution-burdened communities are being targeted for CCS, which brings new risks and threats, ironically in the name of environmental justice. The U.S. Gulf Coast, including the Louisiana petrochemical corridor known as “Cancer Alley,” northern plains, and California Central Valley, and the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, are among those areas being targeted for CCS development. Such a buildout would impose new pollution and safety hazards on Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities already suffering the disproportionate and deadly impacts of environmental racism.
3. Rather than replacing fossil fuels, carbon capture technology prolongs our dependence on them.
By design, carbon capture is parasitic on the underlying sources of emissions to which it is attached. Putting carbon capture technology on greenhouse-gas emitting facilities enables those facilities to continue operating, effectively providing those emitters with a license to pollute indefinitely. In practice, CCS at best captures only a fraction of carbon emissions and fails to address other harmful pollution from fuel combustion, such as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), as well as other contaminants from the underlying activities to which CCS was applied. The additional energy required to power the carbon capture process generates even more emissions if supplied by fossil fuels.
4. The majority of captured carbon is used to pump more oil out of the ground.
Almost all existing CCS projects are tied to “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR). In EOR, CO2 is injected into depleted underground oil reservoirs to boost oil production. EOR is currently the primary market driver for captured CO2; no other markets exist at the scale proposed by many of the technology’s proponents. EOR results in more oil extraction and more carbon emissions when that oil is burned and is disastrous for the climate. Yet, the public in the United States is currently paying for EOR through the Section 45Q tax credit, of which oil companies are the biggest beneficiaries. In Canada, the oil and gas industry is lobbying for a similar tax break.
5. There is no economic rationale for the massive deployment of CCS.
Attaching carbon capture technology to an emitting source makes operating that source both more expensive and more energy-intensive. As costs of clean energy like solar and wind plummet, fossil fuel and biomass power plants are becoming less competitive, and adding carbon capture just makes them more costly. Even in heavy-emitting industrial sectors such as plastic or petrochemical manufacturing, applying CCS at scale makes little climate or economic sense.
The push to deploy CCS in the industrial sector ignores the most important alternative methods for curtailing the vast majority of the sector’s emissions. These methods, including replacing fossil fuels with non-carbon emitting renewable energy, are already available and scalable. Investing in CCS infrastructure add-ons to existing facilities locks those facilities and their current energy technologies in place. It diverts resources from non-polluting alternatives that are compatible with a safe climate future.
6. CCS does not remove CO2 from the atmosphere. At best, it prevents some carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Even there, it falls short: CCS projects implemented to date have systematically overpromised and under-delivered on emissions reductions. Advertisements from some fossil fuel companies that compare CCS to a living plant are deeply misleading. Industry claims that BECCS is a negative emissions technology are based on the flawed and scientifically discredited premise that burning biomass is carbon neutral. In fact, burning wood for energy can increase greenhouse gas impacts for decades to centuries compared to fossil fuels.
7. Science and existing regulations do not back the promise of “permanent” storage or sequestration of carbon.
Current US federal regulations, for example, only require storage of CO2 for 50 years to qualify for subsidies. But CO2 lingers in the atmosphere and environment on a geological time scale — for hundreds or even thousands of years. Considering CO2 injected underground or used in the manufacture of plastics, cement, or other goods will be safely contained in perpetuity is irresponsible at best. It merely kicks the can down a very short road, to be a burden to the next generation.
- Center for International Environmental Law, Confronting the Myth of Carbon-Free Fossil Fuels: Why Carbon Capture is Not a Climate Solution
- Oil Change International, Carbon Capture: Five Decades of False Hope, Hype, and Hot Air
- Friends of the Earth, A Climate Justice Users Guide to the Manchin Energy Infrastructure Bill
- Multiple, Net Zero Producers Forum: A Catalyst for Climate Action or Just Another Delaying Tactic
- Indigenous Environmental Network and others, Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Resist False Solutions to Climate Change
- Global Witness, The World Cannot Meet Climate Targets by Relying on Carbon Capture and Storage
- Center for International Environmental Law, Red, Black & Green New Deal Initiative at the Movement for Black Lives, and The Alliance for Affordable Energy, Carbon Capture and Storage: An Expensive and Dangerous Proposition for Louisiana
- Center for International Environmental Law, Fuel to the Fire: How Geoengineering Threatens to Entrench Fossil Fuels and Accelerate the Climate Crisis
- White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Final Recommendations: Justice40 Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool & Executive Order 12898 Revisions