400 Canadian Scientists and Academics Oppose Carbon Capture Tax Credits

They call it 'a pipe dream' that actually increases oil production.

CO2 pipe from Quest
Carbon dioxide off to be liquified and shipped.

Natural Resources Canada

More than 400 scientists and academics have written a letter urging the Canadian federal government to kill a proposed investment tax credit for carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS). However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a problem. He and his administration have made all kinds of commitments to voters and in the Paris Agreement to cut the nation's carbon emissions, a large proportion of which come from boiling rocks in the Alberta oil sands.

Meanwhile, the opposition Conservatives hope to get re-elected by claiming Trudeau wants to phase out Canadian energy production in 18 months (he doesn't) and saying, "We need natural gas to heat our houses, and gasoline to fuel our cars; we need to be proud of our energy workers and what we do here in Canada," which is boiling rocks to extract some of the most carbon-intensive fuels in the world. You can see opposition leader Erin O'Toole riling up the base in this TikTok:

Western alienation is not a small problem for Canadians, and Trudeau is not planning to phase out energy production but is trying to phase out subsidies to the oil industry. At the same time, he is offering new forms of subsidies, such as the fantastical blue hydrogen strategy and new tax credit for investing in CCUS, which is being tried at Shell Oil's Quest hydrogen plant.

Many believe that CCUS is just another way of keeping the Alberta fossil fuel companies in business and that tax credits for it are just another subsidy.

The scientists argue in their letter that the government promised to eliminate subsidies and there are better ways to reduce emissions.

"Effective solutions to achieve deep emission reductions in the next decade along a pathway to zero emissions are already at hand, including renewable energy, electrification, and energy efficiency. Funding CCUS diverts resources from these proven, more cost-effective solutions that are available on the timeframes required to mitigate climate change."

The letter also notes that the way the carbon is stored, by pumping it back into the oil fields, actually increases production.

"Carbon capture methods are being used to boost oil production, and have therefore resulted in increased emissions. The only existing commercially available market for captured carbon is enhanced oil recovery, whereby CO2 is injected into depleted underground oil reservoirs to boost oil production—extraction that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. Globally 80% of captured carbon is being used for enhanced oil recovery. In addition, CCUS does not address downstream emissions, which constitutes 80% of oil and gas emissions."

They also note that where credits like this were used in the United States, the biggest beneficiaries were oil companies: "Analysis done on the 45Q tax credit found it could result in at least an additional 400,000 barrels per day of CO2-enhanced oil production in the United States by 2035, which would directly lead to as much as 50.7 million metric tons of net CO2 emissions annually—and possibly far more."

The scientists and academics demand enhanced oil recovery projects should not be eligible, and that "oil and gas projects, including fossil or blue hydrogen, as well as plastics and petrochemical production, should not be eligible for the credit."

This kind of defeats the entire purpose of the credit, which is to keep the oil, the money, and the votes flowing out of Alberta. But then this is the point of CCUS everywhere: to maintain the happy motoring status quo. Even though, as the letter concludes:

"Deploying CCUS at any climate-relevant scale, carried out within the short timeframe we have to avert climate catastrophe without posing substantial risks to communities on the frontlines of the buildout, is a pipe dream. We must instead move forward with proven climate solutions that will contribute the most to emissions reductions: increased electrification, wide-scale use of renewable energy, and intensifying energy efficiency."

Nobody is much impressed when I write that the numbers on CCUS don't work, that we can't "solve our climate problems with techno-fixes that suck CO2 either out of the air or out of natural gas." Perhaps 400 of Canada's top scientists and academics will get more attention.