(Image: Private Media/Tom Red)

While carbon capture and storage is a scam that has already taken billions of taxpayer dollars and is now taking hundreds of millions of dollars more, the bigger problem is that the idea of a relatively straightforward transition to net zero is based on CCS working. And it doesn’t.

A new analysis by West Australian journalist and former oil and gas engineer Peter Milne has exposed just how poorly Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island off the WA coast has performed at its intended goal of sequestering millions of tonnes of CO2 in underground storage.

Gorgon is the world’s flagship CCS project, after the CCS component of the $7.5 billion Kemper power plant in Mississippi was shut after years of failure and delays in 2017. And it has been a massive failure. The Barrow Island facility is supposed to extract CO2 from gas sourced from the Gorgon offshore field — which is required anyway for processing into LNG — and pump it into a reservoir two kilometres underground, after water has been pumped out of the reservoir to make way for it.

Chevron and partners Shell and ExxonMobil committed to injecting 80% of the extracted CO2 which is normally vented, but while it began processing LNG in 2016, injection of the extracted CO2 only began in August 2019 — at 70% — before injection was capped by the WA environmental regulator because Chevron couldn’t pump water out of the reservoir.

The CCS system there has cost more than $3 billion. So far, Milne shows, it has injected about 30% of the 15 million tonnes of CO2 extracted from the offshore gas — a long way short of the 80% commitment. This doesn’t include the millions of tonnes emitted from the LNG compression process.

Remember that what Chevron is doing with Gorgon is the easy version of CCS: the “capture” part of CCS is already being done as a standard part of the LNG production process. That’s not the case with coal-fired power, where there is no commercially viable technology to capture CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the production process (which is why Kemper CCS never worked; that plant now has to burn gas and not coal to function legally).

Chevron and its partners just have to inject the CO2 they would normally collect anyway, and that in itself has proven near impossible despite their using existing, widely used technology developed to extract and inject liquids underground.

The Morrison government announced in the budget it was wasting another $263 million on CCS as part of its fossil-fuel industry donor-drafted “gas-led recovery” plan.

But far more than hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money is at stake. The main point of CCS is that it allows further delay in the necessary transition to net zero economies and the prohibition of all fossil fuels. The plan for net zero by 2050 put forward by the International Energy Agency presumes that 11% of total energy supply in 2050 would be from gas with CCS (8%) or coal with CCS (3%). As Gorgon demonstrates, CCS with gas is exorbitantly expensive and, at best, a massive underperformer at reducing emissions, while coal with CCS is a complete fantasy.

That leaves about 10% of total energy supply that has to be sourced from non-fossil-fuel sources — not from coal and gas. And that’s for the unambitious net zero by 2050 target that will see the planet heat up well beyond Paris agreement targets. Net zero by 2040-45 is needed to mitigate the worst effects of global warming under way.

Every dollar wasted on CCS is also a delay to the urgent task of decarbonisation.

A policy bought by political donations and well-placed mates in positions of power will have dire ramifications — and sooner than people think.