CCS Technology and Oil Companies (Video)

CCS Technology and Oil Companies

This video explains some of the reasons why CCS technology attracts oil companies

 
The biggest oil company in the world is ExxonMobil.1 They believe the carbon capture and storage (CCS) market will be worth USD $2 trillion by 2040.2 Therefore, they plan to invest USD $3 billion in lower-emission energy solutions through to 2025, particularly CCS technology.3 

Likewise, oil supermajor British Petroleum (BP) is leading the UK’s first full-scale CCS technology hub in Teesside.4 French oil giant Total is also allocating 10 per cent of their research and development budget into CCS development.5 Consequently, it looks increasingly likely that big oil companies will dominate the CCS sector. 

Why does CCS technology attract oil companies?

In some ways, this interest from oil companies in CCS is logical. The industry has the relevant expertise, experience and funding to develop existing CCS technology.6 Moreover, they have a huge responsibility to reduce emissions. Just 20 fossil fuel companies have caused more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions by exploiting oil, gas and coal reserves.7

Oil companies: Good intentions or a distraction?

On the other hand, oil companies have historically put profit before any environmental or ethical concerns.8 Their motivations for moving into the CCS technology sector are neither altruistic nor driven by a desire to help the planet. There is a risk that their involvement in this industry is a distraction from the real solution to global warming: reducing the consumption of fossil fuels entirely.

What is the current status of carbon capture and storage?

In Autumn 2020, there were just 19 large-scale industrial and two large-scale CCS power facilities operating worldwide. Together, they can capture about 40 million tonnes of CO2 each year, according to the Center on Global Energy Policy. In addition, there are a further 20 projects under development.9 The US is leading the expansion of CCS technology. Other countries with serious investment in the sector include the UK, Norway and Australia.10

Global demand for CCS technology was given a boost in 2018 by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Their report emphasises limiting global warming to 1.5°C to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate change. Part of achieving this includes the “large-scale deployment of carbon dioxide removal measures.”11 Many oil companies are eager to use this as justification for continuing to produce more greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels. This is despite that the same report is also emphatic that renewable energy must replace the vast majority of fossil fuels by 2050.12

image of oil being extracted

The effect of the 2018 IPCC report on CCS technology

Since the release of the IPCC report, several new CCS technology developments have been announced. Many of these have been by oil companies. All are ambitious in terms of both scale and cost.

For instance, ExxonMobil proposed a new CCS project in 2021.13 The Houston Ship Channel CCS aims to remove 100 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2040. If successful, it would represent a seven-fold increase in the US’s carbon capture capacity.14 However, it will also require investments of around USD $100 billion.15

Oil giants sadly dominate CCS technology

The cost of CCS

The Houston Ship Channel CCS demonstrates the enormous costs around developing CCS technology. It highlights one key reason why the industry is likely to be dominated by oil giants. The facilities and infrastructure to capture and store carbon permanently are extremely expensive to build. 

CCS technology costs far more than renewables. Capturing CO2 is the most expensive aspect of CCS. In 2018, it typically cost between USD $54 and $82 to isolate and trap the greenhouse gas.16 On the contrary, from 2010 to 2019, the cost of solar PV dropped by 82 per cent globally.17 By 2020, solar energy was providing the cheapest energy in history.18 This raises important questions of why governments should fund CCS instead of investing money in renewable energies.

Carbon capture investment feasibilities

With such high costs involved with CCS, it is no surprise that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) find it harder to compete with oil supermajors. Smaller operators will need to spend more money relative to their size to incorporate CCS technology. Their limited infrastructure and capital restrict their investment ability. As a result, it will require government intervention to incentivise carbon capture to promote investments from SMEs.19

Is it possible to level the playing field?

The world’s richest man, Elon Musk, is offering the largest incentive prize in history to anyone who can create functioning direct air capture (DAC) technology. Innovators and teams from any background can enter the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition. But, to win the USD $50 million grand prize, the team must remove 1,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. They must also present a plan to reach a gigatonne per year scale sustainably.20 

What is the difference between DAC and CCS?

CCS refers to several different technologies, including DAC.21 DAC captures CO2 from the atmosphere. It typically involves pulling air through chemical filters that bind with the CO2. Heating the filter releases the concentrated CO2. Then, it can be captured for storage or use. Storing it underground keeps it from re-entering the air. This decreases the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Therefore, it reduces global warming.22

Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels

The term CCS most commonly means the capture of CO2 from fuel combustion or industrial processes.23 This capture may occur post-combustion, pre-combustion or through oxyfuel combustion. It does not remove CO2 already in the air like DAC. Instead, it prevents up to 90 per cent of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels from entering the atmosphere in the first place.24 Then, the CO2 can be stored underground or repurposed. For instance, it may be employed in enhanced oil recovery (EOR). In fact, 80 per cent of the CO2 captured by CCS is injected underground for EOR.25 This means that it is used to produce more fossil fuels.26

Can the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition make CCS technology more inclusive?

Musk’s influence and the enormous cash prize will undoubtedly raise awareness for CCS technology. The competition is stimulating interest in the nascent sector, and it may produce some interesting developments. There are also no limitations on entrants. Anyone from “startups, university groups, small to midsize companies, high school students, families, or even individuals” can apply.27 Up to 15 applicants could win Milestone Prizes of USD $1 million each in the first year. Three runners up could win USD $10 million each.28 

Nevertheless, regardless of XPRIZE’s impact, CCS technology will continue to be dominated by oil companies. This is because CCS projects require colossal amounts of capital which few non-fossil fuel companies can afford. CCS also requires large transportation and storage networks for the CO2. For example, the 8,000 kilometres of existing CO2 pipelines in North America must expand by a further 35,000 kilometres to maximise emissions reduction.29 Which industry has the most leverage over pipelines? The fossil fuel industry.    

image of oil company

What does the future hold for CCS technology?

It takes six to 10 years for large-scale CCS projects to go from conception to the commissioning stage.30 The majority of large-scale projects currently underway or being proposed are at least partially funded and driven by big oil companies. Therefore, it is highly likely that fossil fuel supermajors will monopolise this sector. 

For example, ExxonMobil has plans for more than 20 new CCS projects around the globe. The company already has an equity share in 20 per cent of the world’s CO2 capture capacity. They claim responsibility for about 40 per cent of all the captured human-caused CO2 in the world.31

Why is it bad for oil companies to control CCS technology?

However, ExxonMobil has also been accused of touting CCS technology as a climate fix whilst using it to maximise profit and maintain oil production. For instance, since 2008, the US government has offered tax credits to encourage corporations to capture and store CO2. Subsequently, ExxonMobil has benefited greatly from CCS technology. They have been able to claim more credits than any other company. The figures may be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.32

It is clear that oil giants are not investing in CCS out of concern for climate change. If they really wanted to prevent global warming, they would stop producing fossil fuels. Instead, companies like ExxonMobil use CCS as an excuse to continue drilling wells and building rigs. When they capture CO2, they sell it to other companies for use in EOR to produce more fossil fuels. ExxonMobil has even fought the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) oversight of the practice, despite large quantities of CO2 leaking from old oil wells.33

Why CCS technology cannot solve the climate change crisis

It is highly unlikely that CCS technology can reach the scale necessary to prevent a catastrophic increase in global temperatures. The IPCC and many other organisations suggest that we need to capture 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 per annum by 2030 to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C.34

For this to be possible, the current CCS capacity must grow by a factor of 35 from the current level. It is implausible that this will be achieved with just 20 projects in development and construction timescales of six to 10 years.35 Moreover, most future CCS technology will be owned by oil giants. If they carry on using 80 per cent of the captured CO2 for EOR and insist on producing further fossil fuels, they will continue to destroy our beautiful planet in the hollow name of profit. 

graphic about CCS Technology and Oil Companies

Sources

  1. Statista. (2019). Largest oil and gas companies 2019 | Statista. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/272709/top-10-oil-and-gas-companies-worldwide-based-on-market-value/.
  2. Geman, B. (2021). Exxon outlines plan to expand carbon capture efforts. [online] Axios. Available at: https://www.axios.com/exxon-carbon-emissions-capture-market-a942dbae-ae1c-4a06-9aca-fa3bac81cb70.html [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  3. ExxonMobil. (2021). ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions to commercialize emission-reduction technology. [online] Available at: https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/News/Newsroom/News-releases/2021/0201_ExxonMobil-Low-Carbon-Solutions-to-commercialize-emission-reduction-technology.
  4. Price, K. (2020). Oil giant BP says Teesside is “vital” to its climate change goals. [online] TeessideLive. Available at: https://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/global-oil-giant-bp-says-18712154 [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  5. Exploration & Production. (2020). TotalEnergies Invests Heavily in Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to Make Industry Less Carbon Intensive. [online] Available at: https://ep.totalenergies.com/en/innovations/research-development/totalenergies-invests-heavily-carbon-capture-utilization-and [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  6. Exploration & Production. (2020). TotalEnergies Invests Heavily in Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) to Make Industry Less Carbon Intensive. [online] Available at: https://ep.totalenergies.com/en/innovations/research-development/totalenergies-invests-heavily-carbon-capture-utilization-and [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  7. Taylor, M. and Watts, J. (2019). Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. The Guardian. [online] 9 Oct. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions.
  8. Taylor, M. and Watts, J. (2019). Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions. The Guardian. [online] 9 Oct. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions.
  9. SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy. (2020). Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Columbia. Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  10. GLOBAL STATUS OF CCS 2020. (2020). [online] . Available at: https://www.globalccsinstitute.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Global-Status-of-CCS-Report-English.pdf.
  11. NBC News. (2021). From fashion to Big Oil, surviving the green economy involves capturing — and reusing — carbon dioxide. [online] Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/big-oil-just-one-industry-hoping-carbon-capture-will-help-n1265141 [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  12. IPCC (2018). Summary for Policymakers — Global Warming of 1.5 oC. [online] Ipcc.ch. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/spm/.
  13. OilPrice.com. (2021). Exxon Proposes $100 Billion Carbon Capture Project. [online] Available at: https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Exxon-Proposes-100B-Carbon-Capture-Project.html.
  14. ExxonMobil. (n.d.). LCS. [online] Available at: https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/Energy-and-innovation/Low-Carbon-Solutions#Ourplan.
  15. OilPrice.com. (2021). Exxon Proposes $100 Billion Carbon Capture Project. [online] Available at: https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Exxon-Proposes-100B-Carbon-Capture-Project.html.
  16. Anon, (2018). A catch CO2 situation: CCS and the oil and gas industry. [online] Available at: https://www.nsenergybusiness.com/news/carbon-capture-storage-oil-gas/ [Accessed 2 Jun. 2021].
  17. Solar Power Portal. (n.d.). Solar PV costs fall 82% over the last decade, says IRENA. [online] Available at: https://www.solarpowerportal.co.uk/news/solar_pv_costs_fall_82_over_the_last_decade_says_irena.
  18. Evans, S. and Gabbatiss, J. (2020). Solar is now “cheapest electricity in history”, confirms IEA. [online] Carbon Brief. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/solar-is-now-cheapest-electricity-in-history-confirms-iea.
  19. Oilfield Technology. (2021). GlobalData: carbon capture and storage dominated by oil giants with no room for smaller operators. [online] Available at: https://www.oilfieldtechnology.com/special-reports/05052021/globaldata-carbon-capture-and-storage-dominated-by-oil-giants-with-no-room-for-smaller-operators/.
  20. XPRIZE. (n.d.). XPRIZE Carbon Removal. [online] Available at: https://www.xprize.org/prizes/elonmusk.
  21. IEA. (2021). About CCUS – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/about-ccus.
  22. Direct Air Capture. (2020). International Energy Agency. [online] 22 Jun. Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/direct-air-capture.
  23. IEA. (n.d.). Carbon capture, utilisation and storage – Fuels & Technologies. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/fuels-and-technologies/carbon-capture-utilisation-and-storage.
  24. Grantham Research Institute on climate change and the environment. (2018). What is carbon capture and storage and what role can it play in tackling climate change? [online] Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-carbon-capture-and-storage-and-what-role-can-it-play-in-tackling-climate-change/.
  25. IEA. (2020). CCUS in Clean Energy Transitions – Analysis. [online] Available at: https://www.iea.org/reports/ccus-in-clean-energy-transitions.
  26. www.rigzone.com. (n.d.). What Is EOR, and How Does It Work? [online] Available at: https://www.rigzone.com/training/insight.asp?insight_id=313.
  27. www.xprize.org. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions. [online] Available at: https://www.xprize.org/prizes/elonmusk/faq.
  28. XPRIZE. (n.d.). XPRIZE Carbon Removal. [online] Available at: https://www.xprize.org/prizes/elonmusk.
  29. SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy. (2020). Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Columbia. Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  30. www.energypolicy.columbia.edu. (n.d.). Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy | Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  31. ExxonMobil. (2021). ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions to commercialize emission-reduction technology. [online] Available at: https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/News/Newsroom/News-releases/2021/0201_ExxonMobil-Low-Carbon-Solutions-to-commercialize-emission-reduction-technology.
  32. Kusnetz, N. (2020). Exxon Touts Carbon Capture as a Climate Fix, but Uses It to Maximize Profit and Keep Oil Flowing. [online] Inside Climate News. Available at: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27092020/exxon-carbon-capture/.
  33. Kusnetz, N. (2020). Exxon Touts Carbon Capture as a Climate Fix, but Uses It to Maximize Profit and Keep Oil Flowing. [online] Inside Climate News. Available at: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27092020/exxon-carbon-capture/.
  34. SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy. (2020). Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Columbia. Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.
  35. SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy. (2020). Net-Zero and Geospheric Return: Actions Today for 2030 and Beyond. [online] Columbia. Available at: https://www.energypolicy.columbia.edu/research/report/net-zero-and-geospheric-return-actions-today-2030-and-beyond.