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Carbon capture doomed to fail, report says

Pumping carbon under the sea from gas rigs or storing it underground “simply won’t work” as a climate solution, an independent energy researcher warns.

In a report released on Thursday, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis examined 13 of the world’s flagship carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) projects.

More than half of them underperformed, two failed and one was mothballed, report author Bruce Robertson said.

“CCS technology has been going for 50 years and many projects have failed and continued to fail, with only a handful working,” he said.

The Gorgon project off the coast of WA – Australia’s only operating CCS system and one of the world’s largest – underperformed by about 50 per cent over its first five-year period, according to the case study.

Chevron Australia’s Gorgon liquefied natural gas operations takes carbon from offshore gas reservoirs and injects it into sandstone beneath Barrow Island, off WA.

Falling short of state government-mandated performance targets, Chevron Australia buys carbon credits to offset emissions and comply with its WA licence to operate.

“Many international bodies and national governments are relying on carbon capture in the fossil fuel sector to get to net zero, and it simply won’t work,” Mr Robertson said.

Chevron told AAP the Gorgon CCS system is operational and carbon is being safely injected two kilometres beneath Barrow Island.

“Innovation on this scale is not without its challenges, but the technology works,” the spokesman said.

“We have more work to do – we have a dedicated team looking at options to optimise the performance of the system over its 40-year life span, and we are going to continue investing in the system to ensure it reaches its full potential.”

The Albanese government last week approved the first new offshore carbon capture areas since 2014, saying the “safe, key proven technology” would help Australia to lower emissions.

The Inpex, Woodside Energy and TotalEnergies joint venture is located in the Bonaparte Basin off the Northern Territory coast, while Woodside Energy’s project is in the Browse Basin off the West Australian coast.

Carbon capture has been used since last century for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), where oil and gas producers inject pressurised carbon into reservoirs to squeeze out more hydrocarbons.

The report said EOR projects use almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of the carbon captured each year.

Over the past 50 years, only a small proportion of carbon capture projects (10 to 20 per cent) have stored carbon in dedicated geological structures without using it for EOR, the report found.

Mr Robertson said CCS might have a role to play for hard-to-abate cement, fertilisers and steelmaking, but he recommended safeguards.

Projects must be in safe locations, have a centuries-long monitoring plan and compensation figured out in case of failure, and no liability for taxpayers.

Nor should it be used to extend the life of any type of fossil fuel asset as a “climate solution”, he said.

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