Sunday, July 25, 2021

Huge carbon capture pipeline network proposed: Industry's 'delay-and-fail strategy' rises again

An astute journalist I know once described carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a "delay-and-fail strategy" devised by the fossil fuel industry. The industry's ploy was utterly obvious to him: Promise to perfect and deploy CCS at some vague point in the future. By the time people catch on that CCS won't work, the fossil fuel industry will have successfully extended the time it has operated without onerous regulation for another couple of decades.

And because huge financial resources (mostly government resources) will have gone to CCS projects instead of low-carbon energy production, society will continue to be wildly dependent on carbon-based fuels (giving the industry further running room).

The trouble is that the cynical CCS strategy has already been under way and failing for more than two decades already. And yet, it is seeking a renewed lease on life with a proposal for a vast network of carbon dioxide pipelines "twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume." The public face of the effort is a former Obama administration secretary of energy with a perennially bad haircut, Ernest Moniz.

Moniz has a partnership with the AFL-CIO to push the idea. No doubt unions like the project because it would create a lot of jobs regardless of whether it actually addresses climate change.

Just for the record, here's a list of reasons that CCS doesn't work and likely will not work in any time frame that matters for addressing climate change:

  1. It's very costly. Many of the pilot projects have been shut down because they are uneconomical.

  2. Suitable underground storage is not abundant and frequently not near facilities that produce the carbon dioxide.

  3. Long-term storage may fail, releasing the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere anyway. After all, one must have injection wells into the underground storage, wells that can leak if not properly maintained. Not least, there is no multi-decade record of successful, leak-free sequestration. And finally, there is no assurance that such storage facilities can be maintained properly for the many centuries required to have them actually protect the climate.

  4. The carbon dioxide in some current viable CCS projects is used by the oil industry to flush out more oil from existing wells. That's hardly in keeping with the purpose of addressing climate change.

Energy expert Vaclav Smil did some calculations for an American Scientist magazine article that demonstrate the scale of the CCS challenge:

[I]n order to sequester just a fifth of current CO2 emissions we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build. Technically possible—but not within a timeframe that would prevent CO2 from rising above 450 ppm.

Smil wrote that back in 2011. The latest reading in Hawaii at the often-cited Scripps Institution of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory is 418 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere. The relentless upward slope of the observatory's graph of carbon dioxide concentration shows that the fossil fuel industry's tactics—of which delay-and-fail CCS is just one—are working splendidly.

It is troubling that a key official at the U.S. Department of Energy is taking the CCS plan seriously. One would think that decades of failure would finally make clear the false promises of the industry. But, of course, failure is the whole point of the CCS ruse. What's puzzling is that the failure to date has somehow become a rallying cry to try harder by building one of the biggest boondoggles ever conceived.

Kurt Cobb is a freelance writer and communications consultant who writes frequently about energy and environment. His work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Resilience, Common Dreams, Naked Capitalism, Le Monde Diplomatique,, OilVoice, TalkMarkets,, Business Insider and many other places. He is the author of an oil-themed novel entitled Prelude and has a widely followed blog called Resource Insights. He can be contacted at


september 16 said...

Given deep time, every well that has ever been drilled, capped and often abandoned will eventually fail allowing all those sequestered gases to be released. That will be one of the legacies that our extractive civilization will leave for our descendants.

S. W. Lawrence said...

Can you believe there is another unconventional concrete that uses less cement, may cure in one day instead of twenty-eight, and is often stronger than the conventional material? Solidia in New Jersey is an example of a company that’s perfected the requisite suite of technologies. This includes a lower-temperature, lower-energy process which upfront reduces carbon dioxide emissions by up to 40 percent. Extending this advantage, then they inject a mixture of water and liquified carbon dioxide into the concrete mixture, permanently trapping the carbon, claiming up to 70 percent overall reduction in emissions at least in precast concrete.
Geopolymer Solutions based in Texas produces a ‘heat-free, geopolymer concrete that combines recycled waste from coal generator fly ash, ground and granulated blast-furnace slag, and other naturally occurring minerals in place of Portland cement,’ again as described by Carbon Tracker. The carbon footprint is 90 percent reduced, although not negative, uses less water, plus fewer virgin natural resources. The end product is of higher quality and can be processed in standard ready-mix concrete plants. As you might imagine, this and the other new forms of concrete are more expensive, but the trade-off is greater durability, for according to Geopolymer, their product should last a thousand years.
A Montreal-based company called CarbiCrete uses a process called ‘carbonation activation’ that replaces cement with ground slag — a waste by-product of steel manufacturing. During curing, first in precast components, now also in poured applications, captured carbon dioxide is injected to cure the concrete. Another carbon sink. Frustratingly, with the decline in the American steel industry, slag from steel operations is in short supply, really procurable only on the East Coast

gwb said...

I poked through the web site of the group that is spearheading the C02 pipeline network, the Energy Futures Initiative, and it is your typical Cadillac D.C. non-profit, with fancy offices, staffed with well-educated, well-credentialed people making good salaries and benefits. No mention anywhere on their site about who is funding all this -- though we could make a pretty good guess. As always in D.C., the best and the brightest have self-selected themselves to come up with the most high-tech, complex, expensive and unworkable solution imaginable.

rjs said...

carbon capture and storage will never work economically, because the physics goes against it; gases are generally 1000 times less dense than liquids and solids; burn a liter of gasoline, you have a thousand liters of can never capture that 1000 liters of gas as cheaply as it was to burn the gasoline...