The GOP’s Carbon Capture Dodge – The GOP’s ‘Expensive futility & greenwashing boondoggle’
By Steve Milloy
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is releasing a climate bill this week. The purpose is “to put the GOP on the map on climate” in response to polls reporting that enough young voters have finally succumbed to a lifetime of being propagandized on climate.
No sane Republican politician would saddle our economy with pointlessly expensive—the only kind that there are—climate regulations. But there are many who would gladly try to appease climate alarmists by throwing around limited amounts of taxpayer dollars on various boondoggles to make it look like they take the matter seriously. One of these boondoggles is carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)—which is the focus of McCarthy’s bill.
The basic CCS idea is to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) either as it comes out of, say, a power plant smokestack or to have virtual vacuum cleaners literally suck CO2 out of the air. In either case, because CO2 is a gas, it then needs to be converted into a liquid or a solid and then stored somewhere. Technologies for both already exist and are in use to a limited extent. The former technology has some actual value—not related to climate—while the latter is just a steroidal high school science fair project.
Capturing CO2 or Capturing Federal Dollars?
For decades, oil drillers have used compressed CO2—captured from power plants, purchased by drillers and pipelined to nearby oil fields—to force oil out of the ground that is otherwise difficult-to-impossible to extract. This “enhanced oil recovery” (EOR) has always made perfect economic sense on its own. The oil produced is well worth the price of forcing it out with CO2. So far so good.
But now, oil drillers and fossil fuel power plants engaged in EOR want to profit from the climate scam. They want to claim that the CO2 they inject underground to produce oil is sequestered there and so doesn’t increase CO2 in the atmosphere. For this, they can already earn a federal tax credit of $35 per ton. Even assuming that the injected CO2 remains underground permanently—an uncertainty—they are omitting the full story.
The reality is—and the math is simple—that EOR actually results in higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere. When it is burned, the oil produced via EOR emits slightly more CO2 than was used to produce it. That’s right, EOR results in higher CO2 emissions. Yet oil companies pretend that EOR reduces emissions—and they want to be paid for pretending to do that and patted on the back for being climate friendly. It’s a 100 percent scam.
Another CCS fantasy that has been touted by some in the coal and gas industries as well as coal-burning electric utilities is that they can capture CO2 before it leaves power plant smokestacks, convert it into a liquid, and then to pipeline it as far as hundreds of miles away to be stored deep underground in saline formations.
While it is technically possible to capture, convert, pipeline, and inject underground CO2 from smokestacks, that is all that can be said for it. Not only is the process very expensive—the cost of extra smokestack technology, the additional 30 percent energy required, the pipelines etc.—it simply can’t be accomplished on a large, utility scale.
Coal plants in eastern states, for example, would have to pump their CO2 hundreds of miles in nonexistent and difficult-to-get-approved pipelines to Midwest saline formations. Once there, thousands of expensive wells, each costing millions of dollars, would have to be drilled every year to inject the CO2 underground. For comparison purposes, about 13,000 new (and controversial) fracking wells are drilled every year. But they are money makers. That would not be the case with CO2 injection wells, which are all cost.
And did I mention that it’s not even clear that there is enough space underground to store large amounts of CO2? It has been estimated that storing the CO2 emitted by a single large coal-fired power plant would require an underground area the size of the state of Maryland.
The federal government and private utilities have already wasted close to $10 billion chasing the fantasy of power plant CO2 capture. Even small-scale projects have failed. Little-to-no CO2 has been stored. But lots of money has been wasted.
Vacuuming the Atmosphere or Our Wallets?
The other foolish CCS technology being pursued is direct air capture of CO2. This technology involves large devices that suck in outdoor air and chemically remove the CO2. It’s technically possible, but not at all practical.
Occidental Petroleum is building a direct air capture plant that is expected to be able to capture about 500,000 tons of CO2 every year at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. However, manmade emissions of CO2 are about 55.3 billion tons per year, about 40 percent of which (22 billion tons) remain in the atmosphere. So it would take about 44,000 of such direct air capture machines (each costing hundreds of millions of dollars) to be built and operated to remove today’s level of manmade emissions. These 44,000 machines, costing trillions of dollars, would also require about 50 percent of our current electricity demand to operate.
There is one other recently launched CO2 capture technology that should be mentioned.
This latest fad for capturing and sequestering CO2 is the so-called One Trillion Tree Initiative which was announced at the 2020 World Economic Forum event in Davos. The idea is that trees capture CO2 and store it in their roots, trunks and branches. But while everyone loves trees, trying to fight global warming with trees would actually be counterproductive.
For those who subscribe to the climate “science” of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an inconvenient fact is that they are also stuck with this reality: forests cause global warming.
In its August 2019 report “Climate Change and Land,” the IPCC reported that forests in temperate and northern latitudes—i.e., where the vast majority of the trillion trees would be planted—actually have a warming effect. The reason for this is that (dark) forests decrease the amount of solar radiation reflected back to space, which means more solar radiation can be absorbed by the Earth and then re-radiated out as infrared radiation that can be trapped by greenhouse gases.
And what’s a program that actually has a cooling effect? The IPCC reports that it is deforestation—in other words, cutting down trees. So if reducing warming is the goal, it would have made more sense for the World Economic Forum to have announced the Paul Bunyan Initiative.
If all the foregoing isn’t enough to douse the notion of CCS, let alone unilateral CCS in the United States, consider this thought experiment: Let’s pretend that the United States magically stopped emitting CO2 today and forever. By the year 2100, there would only be about two percent (2 percent) less CO2 in the atmosphere—which would translate into an unmeasurably small difference in average global temperature. The math is pretty simple.
However you slice it, CCS is an expensive futility and greenwashing boondoggle masquerading a policy alternative for managing the climate hysteria via technology. The totalitarians who wish to gain political power and control over our lives through climate regulations wouldn’t settle for it even if it did work.
Why Republicans continually need to be reminded of this latter point is a mystery. It would be great if they could capture that reality and store it in their heads.