Carbon capture and storage or utilization strategies aim to use technology to create systems that capture the carbon dioxide emissions from climate-polluting industries in an attempt to keep them from being released into the atmosphere. The claim is that the captured CO2 would then either be stored by pumping it into the ground or into unused oil wells or be utilized by turning the emissions into a product, or by using the CO2 gas for another purpose, such as injecting the captured CO2 into shale fields to frack for natural gas (known as “enhanced oil recovery”). For the reasons articulated below, no Vision for Equitable Climate Action should include carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS), carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) or bioenergy with CCS (BECCS), referred to collectively hereafter as “CCS technologies.”
Development and deployment of CCS technologies is ineffective and would increase local emissions of toxic pollutants and fine particulates into communities (typically disproportionately affecting lower-income communities and communities of color), undermining health and safety. This is due not only to the continued and increased fossil fuel combustion that building and expanding CCS infrastructure would entail, but also to the fact that independent analysis finds that, contrary to industry claims, carbon-fuel combustion facilities with carbon capture technology (as well as direct air carbon capture and use facilities), only capture a small fraction (11%) of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere (and even that minor 11% is likely more than erased by leakages), while simultaneously increasing pollution into communities and undermining health. Further, claims by the biomass industry that BECCS is “carbon negative” are based on the false premise that bioenergy is carbon neutral, and, with regard to forest bioenergy, fail to account for stack emissions, reductions in forest carbon sequestration, and soil carbon loss that are caused by the removal of trees through logging.
The considerable monetary investment necessary to develop scalable CCS technologies will restrict funding of known and tested means of reducing CO2 from the atmosphere. For example, the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) allocates more than $12 billion for CCS technologies over the next ten years. This money could have been used to transition away from fossil fuels and into community solar, or to invest in protecting forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems that draw carbon out of the atmosphere and protect communities and biodiversity from the impacts of extreme weather events brought on by climate change.
In the near term (next decade) the development of CCS technologies is dependent on increased fossil fuel production and use and therefore increased emissions at a time when it is imperative that we both reduce emissions and draw down existing CO2 from our atmosphere. This is because a 30% increase in fossil fuel production and combustion facilities nationally (and globally) would be required in order to generate the enormous amount of additional power that is necessary to produce and install thousands of miles of CO2 pipelines and compress CO2 into liquid form for transport in the pipelines. Put simply, investment into CCS/CCUS/BECCS would just extend and increase the government subsidies and tax credits that already flow to the fossil fuel and logging industries.
Scaling the storage of CO2 emissions by pumping it into the ground would increase earthquake activity, leading to catastrophic releases of CO2 into the atmosphere, along with lethal toxic contaminants like Hydrogen Sulfide, which can kill people, animals, and plants.
Scaling the storage of CO2 emissions by pumping it into the ground would acidify aquifers and poison drinking water, because CO2 dissolves in water and undergoes a chemical reaction that produces carbonic acid.
Scaling the capture, storage and or utilization of CO2 emissions would cause huge diversions of water from rivers and streams for industrial cooling purposes.
Even if CCS technologies were effective and without tremendous downsides, which it is not, we could not deploy it in the time frame necessary to actually mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
CCS technologies are not required to draw down atmospheric CO2, since ecological methods are just as effective. The IPCC found that it is feasible to draw down excess atmospheric carbon dioxide without recourse to experimental carbon capture and sequestration technologies by relying entirely on nature-based solutions, primarily forests, in combination with steeper emissions reductions. In addition, the IPCC noted that restoration of natural ecosystems and soil carbon sequestration, if done properly, could provide essential co-benefits such as improved biodiversity, soil quality, and local food security.
VISION FOR EQUITABLE CLIMATE ACTION
The Vision for Equitable Climate Action (VECA) is a roadmap to prevent the worst of global warming. Acting equitably and ambitiously to reduce greenhouse gases to zero by 2050.