As we move away from the UN’s COP28 conference in UAE, Governments worldwide are banking on carbon capture methods to fulfill international commitments to decarbonize by mid-century. However, a growing debate surrounds whether carbon capture is a genuine solution or a giant scam.

Carbon capture and storage, hailed by some as a climate savior, has emerged as a flashpoint, drawing skepticism and criticism.

Hosted by the United Arab Emirates, a major oil giant, this year’s conference saw COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber dismissing the global call to end fossil fuels, asserting there is “no science” behind such appeals. Instead, oil and gas-producing nations champion carbon capture, masking it as a solution to climate change while sustaining their profitable fossil fuel ventures.

The promise of carbon capture and storage is to trap carbon dioxide emissions from industries and bury them deep underground. However, after over 15 years in the field, it appears that technology is not only an expensive distraction but also an ineffective climate solution.

Forms of Carbon Capture

The most prevalent method involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions from industrial smokestacks. This process, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS), has 42 operational projects worldwide. These projects can store 49 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, which is a mere 0.13% of the global carbon emissions.

However, a significant portion of these projects, about 78%, uses captured carbon for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a practice that divides opinions among environmentalists. The remaining projects, scattered across countries like the U.S., Norway, Iceland, China, Canada, Qatar, and Australia, focus on permanently storing carbon underground. The profitability of these ventures remains uncertain.

Another form, direct air capture (DAC), aims to capture carbon emissions directly from the atmosphere. Despite plans for 130 DAC facilities worldwide, only 27 are operational, capturing a modest 10,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

A recent study from the University of Oxford sheds light on the economic and climate fallacy of relying on carbon capture to compensate for ongoing fossil fuel burning. The report reveals that net-zero pathways heavily dependent on this technology would cost at least $1 trillion more annually than scenarios focused on renewables. It emphasizes that countries advocating for carbon capture are severely underestimating the true costs, projecting potential economic damage exceeding $30 trillion compared to renewable-centric routes.

Oxford’s researchers caution that carbon capture and storage should only be applied in specific industries facing extraordinary challenges in reducing climate pollutants, not as a smokescreen for continued fossil fuel production. Unfortunately, the reality is that the technology is predominantly utilized in processes that result in even more climate pollution.

Out of the 12 commercial carbon capture projects in operation in 2021, more than 90 percent were involved in “enhanced oil recovery,” a process that injects captured carbon dioxide into oil fields to extract additional oil and gas. This not only defeats the purpose of carbon capture but also contributes to further emissions.

The financial inefficiency of carbon capture is exacerbated by the Department of Energy’s squandering of billions on failed demonstration projects. Despite massive taxpayer subsidies, carbon capture companies continue to falter, raising concerns about the lack of accountability in the industry.

The critical flaw in carbon capture lies in its widespread use to produce and burn more oil and methane gas, perpetuating a cycle of environmental harm. This calls into question the industry’s integrity, as carbon capture becomes a guise for extracting additional fossil fuels while claiming to address climate concerns.

As nations convene for the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, the focus on carbon capture’s role in a climate-friendly world is under scrutiny. While various forms of carbon capture exist, including direct air capture, their effectiveness remains questionable, and the costs are notably high.

One stumbling block for widespread deployment is the considerable cost, ranging from $15 to $120 per metric ton of captured carbon for CCS, and even more expensive for DAC projects, reaching $600 to $1,000 per metric ton. Public subsidies have been rolled out, but doubts persist about the profitability and viability of these projects.

is Carbon Capture a giant Scam?

The debate takes a turn as allegations emerge that carbon capture might be a grand deception orchestrated by the oil industry. Critics argue that major oil companies, reluctant to slow down production, devised “net zero” strategies to continue profiting while appearing climate-conscious.

This narrative suggests that since the 1950s, the oil industry has been aware of the eventual depletion of oil fields. To address this, they developed enhanced oil recovery technologies involving carbon capture. However, these technologies, expensive and margin-reducing, prompted the birth of the “Carbon Capture, Use, and Storage” (CCUS) concept.

Historical instances, such as Chevron’s 1972 CCS project, are cited as evidence of the industry’s intention to use captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery. The narrative suggests that this approach has continued, with projects like Australia’s Gorgon CCS project allegedly failing to deliver on promised carbon capture targets while receiving substantial public funding.

As allegations of a “carbon capture scam” gain traction, experts and critics argue that the technology has not delivered on its promises. Instances of projects emitting more carbon than they capture, combined with the overall minimal impact on global CO2 emissions, raise questions about the efficacy and honesty of the carbon capture narrative.