Texas and Global Warming – Is Carbon Capture an answer to climate change?

Dow Chemical facility in Freeport, TX
Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

This article is part of a series highlighting the science on how global warming is impacting Texas, the largest sources of pollution, solutions for cutting emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and steps for adapting to those climate changes which are now inevitable.

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According to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon capture and storage and carbon dioxide removal strategies may be necessary to fully decarbonize.

Carbon capture is a process that captures carbon dioxide emissions from factory smokestacks and stores it deep underground into geological formations so it will not enter the atmosphere. Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR), on the other hand, refers to approaches that remove carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, including natural solutions such as soil carbon sequestration, reforestation, and ocean-based methods and technological approaches such as Direct Air Capture (DAC).

While the technology is promising, we have a number of concerns about the current state of the technology and move to adoption.  Any underground, including under the ocean floor, carbon sequestration should be permitted only after being proven to be safe; when energy- and cost-effective compared with other greenhouse gas reduction strategies; and if it has minimal impacts on the environment. Facilities that sequester carbon must be strictly regulated for safety.

Texas’ Railroad Commission (RRC) which oversees the gas and oil industry in Texas, has applied to the EPA for sole regulatory authority over the carbon capture permitting process in Texas. Given the RRC’s poor track record of regulating the oil and gas industry that authority would be a cause for concern.

Carbon capture and storage may also enable further consumption or production of fossil fuels that encourage the combustion of unsustainably sourced biomass, or that result in the creation of synthetic fuels that emit greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and should be rejected.

For example, Occidental Petroleum, its subsidiary 1PointFive, and climate tech company Carbon Engineering broke ground this year on a large-scale Direct Air Capture plant in Ector County, Texas. Occidental plans to use some of the captured carbon in a process called enhanced oil recovery, which extracts hard-to-reach oil reserves by shooting CO2 into the ground saying that “while that takes CO2 out of the air and stuffs it underground, it still leads to more polluting fossil fuels.” Occidental has also leased 106,000 acres within the historic King Ranch in South Texas for Direct Air Capture, but not for enhanced oil recovery. Instead, the company will “sell credits from the carbon removal project to other companies looking to reach net-zero emissions goals.”

While carbon capture may soon end up being an excellent tool in fighting climate change, the issue around it must first be addressed.


Michael Lewis

Former Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas

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