“Burying” CO2 to Fight Global Warming

In the fight against global warming, emission reduction policies may not be enough to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, as required by science and the Paris Agreement. For this reason, attention is increasingly being paid to projects to recover or capture it directly from industrial plants and “bury” it thousands of meters deep in stable geological formations. This is called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

It is already a reality in various countries. The case of Norway stands out, where the state-owned company Equinor (formerly Statoil) has “buried” around one million tons of CO2 under the seabed each year (equivalent to a little more than the total emissions of Mexico). The Northern Lights company – also Norwegian – is currently drilling wells almost three thousand meters deep to bury CO2 under the seabed in the North Sea in stable geological strata. It hopes to bring more than 7 million tons of this greenhouse gas annually. The International Energy Agency estimates that, to reach the goal of zero net emissions by 2050, it will be necessary to capture and store a volume of more than 1,100 million tons of CO2 from 2030. only 40 million tons per year).

The process is conceptually simple, yet very complex in terms of engineering and infrastructure. It consists of capturing CO2 from different industrial companies, concentrating it, compressing it and liquefying it, conveying it through pipelines and specialized ships, and injecting it deep through wells into suitable geological formations. Despite its considerable cost, the practice is becoming attractive thanks to policies to tax CO2 emissions, and to offer tax incentives to companies, especially in industrial sectors where reducing emissions is prohibitively expensive and/or technologically – until now – not very viable (cement, steel, petrochemical, thermoelectric plants, hydrogen production from natural gas). The reason why Norway has been a pioneer in the capture and storage of CO2 is precisely because it was one of the first countries to establish a tax on CO2 emissions (Carbon Tax). For many Norwegian companies it is cheaper to “bury” the CO2 than to release it into the atmosphere. In the United States, new incentives have recently been introduced for the “burial” of CO2 through tax incentives of up to 50 USD/Ton. In Canada, the federal price of emitting CO2 reaches 40 USD/Ton, while in the European carbon market the price is close to 100 USD/Ton. These numbers are higher than the cost of CO2 capture and storage, which can range between 10 and 100 USD/Ton, depending on the costs of compression and liquefaction, and transportation in pipelines and/or ships. Industrial “clusters” are already being planned where various companies that emit CO2 in large quantities can be located adjacent to each other, in such a way that the greenhouse gas is easily collected, compressed and liquefied, introduced into pipelines, and/or unloaded on ships. that will take it (in Europe) to be “buried” under the bed of the North Sea. It will be a kind of marine collection of climate “garbage”, which would reduce the cost of the energy transition.

But all this faces moral and political objections. “Burying” CO2 implies giving a shot of oxygen to companies with large emissions (oil, industrial), and offering incentives to produce more oil, which would entail increasing greenhouse gas emissions themselves. Various studies question this technology, since it has the consequence of sabotaging the energy transition and delaying the decarbonization of the economy, in addition to other environmental sins. In fact, in Canada, hundreds of academics have signed a strong letter of protest demanding their government block the project to grant tax credits to companies that “bury” CO2, since this would mean a subsidy for fossil fuels. The most perverse thing is that, in the United States, the vast majority of CO2 capture and storage projects have been aimed at using this greenhouse gas to inject it under pressure into oil fields and thus reactivate mature or declining deposits, which which results in a higher production of hydrocarbons. In addition, there is the risk of CO2 leaks or escapes, and the complication of building large pipelines through sensitive areas.

In any case, it would seem reprehensible to allow these options for “burial” or final disposal of CO2, extending the life of fossil fuels, when the prices of clean energy are reduced day by day. Or not?


Gabriel Quadri of the Tower

Civil Engineer and Economist

Serious Green

Mexican politician, liberal environmentalist and researcher, he has served as a public official and activist in the private sector. He was the candidate of the Nueva Alianza party for President of Mexico in the 2012 elections.

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