When it comes to debates around global warming, the communication breakdown often occurs between two essential camps: the idealists and the pragmatists. Yes, we all know that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, greenhouse gas emissions need to be slashed down to nothing, effective immediately. However, it’s also apparent that phasing out fossil fuels overnight is not only impossible, it would also be completely devastating to the global economy. Like it or not, global industry runs on fossil fuels, and phasing them out will take time, creative problem solving, and no small measure of trade-offs and sacrifices. Decarbonization is a difficult problem, but an entirely necessary one to tackle.
As we make the transition to a clean energy future, there are a lot of stop-gap measures to mitigate emissions and improve industrial processes until these are able to phase out fossil fuels. Some of these, such as carbon offsetting, have been largely dismissed by environmentalists and climate scientists as ineffective. Others, such as carbon capture, hold significant promise to appease both sides of the idealist/pragmatist camps.
While global industries wean themselves off of carbon-intensive practices and consumption patterns, carbon capture can try to right some of our past wrongs by removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it somewhere that it will no longer contribute to the greenhouse effect.
One such place is below the Gulf of Mexico. For years, fossil fuel companies and the United States government have been eyeing the Miocene sands under the near-off-shore regions of the Gulf as an ideal location for wells that would allow long-term carbon sequestration and storage. ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and around a dozen other companies have been working on developing Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) in the areas around Houston as these companies come under scrutiny and pressure to lower their net carbon emissions increases. However, those plans appeared to have hit a serious hurdle last week when a United States federal court shot down a massive oil and gas lease sale hosted by the Biden administration in November of last year. ExxonMobil, the sale’s largest buyer, had bid on nearly 100 leases in the shallow waters of the near-off-shore Gulf, which experts believe that the supermajor intended to use for carbon storage.
While some of these lots may have been slated for carbon storage, however, the broader sale doesn’t appear to have been geared toward decarbonization efforts. The suit that led to the sale being halted was brought by environmental groups who were decrying the decision to host an oil and gas lease sale at the same time that the Biden administration has been promising to tackle climate change and slash the country’s emissions. It is an ironic twist that the court’s decision may have inadvertently put a hitch in ExxonMobil’s plans to chip away at its commitment to reach net-zero emissions in its operations by 2050. The Verge points out that this decision itself is “a relatively limited climate commitment since it excludes emissions that come from the burning of oil and gas products the company sells.”
On its own, CCS is just a drop in the bucket compared to the oceanic effort needed to reverse the growth of global emissions. In tandem with other approaches, however, CCS has its place in the green energy transition, and helping oil and gas companies get serious about it, while also holding them accountable for their emissions-slashing commitments, should be an initiative that both idealists and pragmatists can get behind.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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