Four years late and far over budget, Chevron Corporation has finally flipped the switch on a carbon capture and storage (CCS) system for the mammoth, $72-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that has accounted for half of the annual increase in Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“The Gorgon LNG development in the Pilbara, promised as a landmark development in burying greenhouse gas to limit emissions from fossil fuels, was supposed to start along with gas production in 2016,” The Guardian reports. “But the project was repeatedly delayed, with the company blaming technical issues.”
Earlier this month, Chevron and an operating partner finally announced the safe start-up and operation of what Australia Managing Director Al Williams called “one of the world’s largest greenhouse gas mitigation projects ever undertaken by industry,” with capacity to reduce Gorgon’s emissions by about 40%. The $2.5-billion CCS unit received a $60-million subsidy from the Australia’s Low Emissions Technology Development Fund.
“This achievement is the result of strong collaboration across industry and governments and supports our objective of providing affordable, reliable, and ever-cleaner energy essential to our modern lives,” Williams said. “We are monitoring system performance and plan to safely ramp up injection volumes over the coming months as we bring online processing facilities.”
Australia Institute climate and energy program director Richie Merzian said the start-up came “better late than never,” but noted the company had been tight-lipped about the amount of carbon it was actually sequestering. “Given the lengthy delays and excuses Chevron has offered to date,” he said, “we will watch with interest when the project gets ramped up and is fully operational as promised.”
Last month, the Conservation Council of Western Australia said Chevron had “deliberately mismanaged” the CCS project to avoid its environmental commitments. The facility was supposed to go into operation in 2016, but Chevron only applied for an operating licence this May, convincing CCWA’s Piers Verstegen the company was never serious about the original target date.
“They’ve left the first step in the process, the part where they seek initial approval, until two years after they were publicly saying they were going to do this,” he said. “I think there need to be serious questions raised about the expenditure of that taxpayer money in a situation where this company clearly had no intention to make it work within the time frames they agreed to.”
The initial promise freed Chevron from any responsibility for investing in carbon sequestration options like tree planting or carbon farming, Verstegen said.
“The Gorgon gas plant was given approval to operate on the Class-A environment reserve at Barrow Island off the coast of Western Australia on the condition that it would capture and bury—known as sequestering—up to 100 million tonnes of emissions over the life of the project,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation writes.
But so far, Australian government data “shows LNG production is the main reason national emissions have risen year-on-year,” The Guardian notes. “Berlin-based researchers at Climate Analytics found the growth in LNG pollution in Australia between 2015 and 2020 would effectively wipe out that avoided through the 23% national renewable energy target.”