Kerry challenges oil industry to prove its promised tech rescue for climate-wrecking emissions
As the world grapples with the urgency of slowing global warming, oil and gas producers are talking up technological breakthroughs that they say will soon allow the world to drill and burn fossil fuels without worsening climate change. Climate envoy John Kerry is calling on the industry to prove that they can make the technology happen, at scale, affordably and quickly, in order to help stave off climate disaster. However, Kerry himself has serious doubts about whether it is possible. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the challenges involved in utilising “climate-rescue” technology, and examine why the industry’s hopes for an extraction of carbon are unrealistic.
Big Oil’s new ads
Since 2015, when the U.S. and nearly 200 other governments committed to cutting emissions, oil producers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in public campaigns portraying themselves as climate-friendly. From industry adverts to social media campaigns, the message is clear: carbon-purging technology is already in use to extract the climate-damaging gases from oil and gas facilities around the world.
The reality about carbon-capturing technology
The technology to capture one major climate-damaging gas, methane, from oil and gas operations does exist, and is awaiting investment to roll out at scale. But the technology to capture the biggest climate agent, carbon dioxide, remains limited in scale and costly, and often energy-intensive in its own right.
Actual experience has been that commercial-scale carbon capture projects have not lived up to their claims. David Schlissel from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis research group commented that “It’s foolish to think that we can keep pumping the stuff, CO2, methane, into the atmosphere, and that at some point we’ll be able to capture it”.
Can technology save the oil and gas industry?
Oil and gas companies are banking on technology that can one day scour away most of the climate-wrecking carbon to stave off public and government pressure for the world to pivot faster away from fossil fuels and to solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. They are looking at the possibility of carbon capture, usage, and storage (CCUS), to store carbon emissions underground or turn them into useful products.
However, the ideal solution would be a fast global switch to renewable energy. While carbon-capturing technology will play a role, oil and gas production itself must be phased out. The industry is not where it needs to be in terms of operability and financial feasibility. It is important to move forward with cleaner renewable energy and move away from fossil fuels.
The oil and gas industry needs to embrace renewable energy and look at ways to become more sustainable. While carbon-capturing technology can play a role, the reality is that it is not financially feasible or operationally feasible as of yet. Director of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol quoted “There is no way we can reduce emissions to meet our climate goals without a big cut in oil, gas, and coal production”.
The oil and gas industry is at a crossroads, technology can only do so much, and a shift towards renewables is the only long-term solution. As Kerry said during his interview with the AP, “if you’re able to abate the emissions, capture it, but we don’t have that at-scale yet. And we can’t sit here and just pretend we’re going to automatically have something we don’t have today. Because we might not. It might not work”. It’s time for the industry to commit to change and take up the challenge of embracing sustainability. The world is watching, and the time for real action is now.
– Since the Paris climate agreement, the U.S. has drastically increased its oil and gas production, becoming the world’s biggest oil producer.
– Carbon capture on a large scale can only happen if governments subsidise the cost.
– The oil and gas industry must review its future prospects and become more involved in developing sustainable and environmentally friendly methods to produce energy. There needs to be a change in their current model.
– Oil and gas companies like Exxon and Shell have recently been taken to court by investors who argued that they had issued falsely optimistic statements regarding their transition to clean energy.
– Technology can play a limited role in the future of energy production. But it can provide an opportunity for companies to continue operating in the oil and gas industry while striving for sustainable methods of extracting and producing energy.