Big Oil Firms Talk Up Carbon Capture, But Do Little
Author: Jane Merriman
Carbon dioxide is the commonest of several manmade
greenhouse gases widely blamed by scientists for heating the
earth and so risking more extreme weather and sea level rise.
But these harmful emissions could be reduced if the carbon
can be captured and stored, in depleted oilfields or saline
aquifers, for example.
"Without CCS (carbon capture and storage), fossil fuel use
would have to be cut by more than half," said Malcolm Brinded,
executive director of exploration and production at Royal Dutch
Commercialising the technology to capture and store carbon
dioxide was a major priority, said Brinded, who was speaking at
the OffshoreEurope industry conference this week.
But he said while carbon capture was not impossible, it
would not be easy or cheap.
Environmental campaigners say the oil companies need to act
on carbon storage, but have done little so far.
"New investments coming forward in this is pathetic," said
Jonathon Porritt, who heads green lobby group Forum for the
"The industry had better get serious about CCS...it's
critical for big oil companies to take a lead," he said at the
The UK government in its last budget launched a competitive
process for various carbon capture and storage schemes. David
Cairns, Scottish energy minister, told the conference, there
were currently 6 bids in this competition and the possibility of
a couple more.
But Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond said the
timetable for this competition had slipped.
"There has been a disturbing lack of urgency," he told the
ExxonMobil, for long environmentalists' least favourite oil
company, is looking at the viability of geological carbon
storage working with other companies and the European Union.
"This initiative...is working to advance carbon capture and
storage technologies by studying current projects at sites
throughout Europe," said Robert Olsen, chairman and production
director at ExxonMobil.
He said aside from the technological issues, carbon capture
needed an appropriate legal and regulatory framework to allow
private sector participation. Governments also needed to be
confident that it would work and be secure long-term.
Another related issue is to how to establish the cost of
The European Union is already operating a cap-and-trade
system in an effort to control greenhouse gas emissions.
Olsen said ExxonMobil's European businesses had operated
under the cap-and-trade system successfully, but noted that
carbon prices had fluctuated widely between a high of 30 euros
and a low of less than one euro a tonne.
He suggested an upstream cap-and-trade system that would
limit carbon at the point where the fuel enters the commercial
world rather than at the point of emission, offered potential
advantages in terms of efficiency and simplicity.
"It reduces the number of regulated entities and provides a
uniform cost of carbon to the entire economy."
Alex Salmond met with EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs
in the summer, and said Piebalgs is inviting a number of energy
companies from the EU to Brussels in two weeks to discuss the
financial framework for carbon capture and storage.