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Carbon Capture Isn't Nearly as 'Green' as Fossil Fuel Promoters Make It Sound
Opinion
By Opinion
Published 1 month ago on
April 17, 2024

An oil pump jack and refinery in Bakersfield. (Shutterstock)

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The global energy landscape is rapidly evolving with California often leading the way. So begins Central Valley Business Federation (BizFed) CEO Clint Olivier’s opinion piece in the March 23 edition of GV Wire. On its website, BizFed shows its founding members as Chevron, SoCalGas, Western States Petroleum Association, other similar energy companies, and Granville Homes.

Ken Wall

Opinion

The piece declares that Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is an essential tool to “protect the energy economy while addressing the need to limit environmental impacts.” The piece suggests that expansion of CCS can help meet higher energy demand in an environmentally sustainable way. Focused as it is on promoting oil and gas companies, BizFed “sees CCS expansion as a key factor in our mission.”

Carbon capture is a complex process that removes a portion of the carbon emitted from industrial processes by capturing it from a smokestack, or carbon can be captured directly from the air. The technology for CCS has been around for about 50 years.

Indeed, the fossil fuel industry has invested many billions of dollars in this technology. Oil companies have used most of the captured carbon (mostly from oil refineries) to pump into non-producing oil wells to repressurize them allowing oil to again flow to the surface (California banned this process in 2022).

CCS operations can also inject carbon into the ground for, hopefully, permanent storage. This approach comes with considerable risk of leakage, either from distribution pipelines or from imperfectly sealed underground formations.

Price of Wind and Solar Is Dropping

Although CCS is not a recent technology, the cost of capturing carbon remains high, while the price of wind and solar energy production has dropped dramatically.  There are embedded costs involved in the capture, compression, and distribution of carbon to storage sites, and it takes a lot of power to accomplish each of these carbon capture operations.

Experts agree that there may be a limited role for CCS to play in helping to reduce atmospheric carbon, but after decades of work, the process remains expensive and energy intensive. Critics argue that supporting the process allows fossil fuel industries to continue to extract oil and gas for combustion.

CCS companies must obtain large government loans, grants, or tax incentives to be feasible, which casts doubt on their “economic sustainability.” Billions of dollars have been allocated to these projects from the recent Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

Billions of dollars from these statutes have also been allocated to clean energy projects, for example, to promote wind and solar power generation, encourage electrification of homes and businesses, and to facilitate the adoption of electric vehicles. The reductions in costs of wind, solar and battery technologies mean that these incentives allow for a more efficient path to reducing human-generated carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. Pursuing CCS likely means fewer incentives available for further investment in clean energy.

How Many Jobs Will Carbon Capture Really Create?

The opinion piece discusses the potential creation of new jobs from CCS, but a Feb. 21 article by KVPR suggests that the projection for hundreds of new permanent jobs may be speculative.  Although there is little information available on how much labor is needed for managing such operations, the need is evidently small; very few employees are needed to oversee these facilities once operational.

Kern County, where interest in CCS is high right now, has some of the worst air quality in the Valley, so it would benefit residents there from a health perspective to wind down oil and gas operations as soon as possible. Ironically, Kern County also leads California counties in the development and production of clean energy, with substantial investments in solar and wind installations. And there is room for much more such investment, particularly solar, so Kern County need not be so economically dependent on oil and gas.

California does indeed need to be at the forefront of the transition away from fossil fuels, and it should not be encouraging activities that are the source of a substantial volume of carbon emissions. We cannot afford to waste time and tax money on efforts to “protect the energy economy” by continuing to support CCS, especially in the San Joaquin Valley where the negative consequences of fossil fuel use are already so visible.

About the Author

Ken Wall is a retired banker and bank regulator, and is an environmental advocate in Fresno.

Make Your Voice Heard

GV Wire encourages vigorous debate from people and organizations on local, state, and national issues. Submit your op-ed to bmcewen@gvwire.com for consideration.

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