The federal government should not be relying on a carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) tax credit to help it win a “race against time” in the effort to get climate change under control, a former Shell Canada engineer argues this week in an opinion piece for The Hill Times.
“We don’t have time for industry to spend decades getting carbon capture technology right,” writes Bruce Wilson, a 30-year industry veteran who now chairs the board of Iron & Earth. “Our climate can’t afford for us to continue powering up with oil and gas for decades to come.”
Wilson’s post appeared just a day before Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled a 2022 budget that contained a long list of green economy and affordable housing measures, but drew climate hawks’ wrath with its promise of C$7.1 billion in carbon capture tax credits over an eight-year span. He warns that that “utterly misguided” tax measure “won’t prevent layoffs as global oil and gas demand drops, as the world pivots away from high carbon fuels.” Nor will Russia’s war in Ukraine change the trajectory, with Vladimir Putin’s over-the-top aggression now pushing European countries to speed up their shift off fossil fuels.
“That’s because it’s faster and cheaper to scale up renewables than building more fossil fuel infrastructure,” Wilson writes. “We don’t have time for industry to spend decades getting CCUS technology right. As Canadians experience heat waves, floods, and forest fires, the clock is ticking.”
The problem, he adds, is that carbon capture isn’t ready for prime time, notwithstanding the intensive industry spin to the contrary.
“Despite what some lobbyists claim, CCUS is not the most effective, scalable tool for cutting our emissions,” he writes. “For all the headlines and dollars poured into CCUS, the Global Institute for Carbon Capture’s 2021 report identifies around only 31 facilities worldwide that are either operational or in construction, collectively accounting for a mere 39.7 million tonnes per annum, less than 0.1% of annual global emissions. That’s assuming they function at nameplate capacity, which is an open question. A report about Shell’s Quest plant found the plant emitted more than it sequestered.”
Analysts have expressed similar concerns about carbon capture attached to “blue” hydrogen systems that process natural gas, as well as the troubled CCUS demonstration unit attached to the Boundary Dam coal-fired power plant near Estevan, Saskatchewan.
“At best, CCUS is a complex, expensive technology that aims to maintain the status quo. But our climate can’t afford for us to continue powering up with oil and gas for decades to come,” Wilson writes. “If oil and gas executives want to invest in carbon capture they are welcome to. But taxpayer dollars must not be squandered on CCUS when more viable, affordable, scalable solutions exist.”
With “better horses to back, ones that will take us faster to where we need to get,” he says public funds are better invested in wind, solar, and geothermal technologies that “are all shovel-ready—unlike CCUS, which is far from proven, requires billions to set up, and risks stranding assets when global oil demand declines.”