WASHINGTON (AP) — Oil and gas producers talk about technological breakthroughs they say the world will soon be able to drill and burn fossil fuels without deteriorating global warming. US climate envoy John Curry says it’s time for the industry to prove it can deliver the technology – at scale, affordably and quickly – to prevent climate catastrophe.
And Kerry says he has “serious questions” about whether it’s possible.
Kerry’s comments came in an interview with The Associated Press about one of the most crucial topics in the fight to slow global warming: oil and gas producers’ argument that they will soon technology available to extract the climate-damaging gases that make fossil fuels the main culprit of climate change, so companies can continue to pump raw and natural gas worry-free.
Kerry said the ideal solution is a rapid global switch to renewable energy, but oil and gas states and companies have a right to give their claim to technological bailout a shot.
“If you’re able to cut emissions, catch it,” Kerry said last week at the office of his climate team at the State Department. “But we don’t have that on scale yet. And we can’t sit here and pretend that we automatically get something that we don’t have today. Because we may not. It may not work.”
Globally, the point matters as oil and gas companies point to the hope of technology that will one day make up most of the climate-destroying carbon to deflect public and governmental pressure on the world to accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels and towards solar, wind and other cleaner energy.
“What they’re counting on is that they’ll be able to capture the emissions,” Kerry said of oil and gas companies. He ticked off the stages of operations that would be involved.
“If you can do those things, maybe you can make it economically competitive,” he said, adding, “I have some serious questions about whether it’s going to be price competitive.”
Particularly since 2015, when the United States and nearly 200 other governments committed to cutting emissions to avoid the most catastrophic global warming scenarios, oil producers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public campaigns portraying themselves as climate-friendly . Industry advertisements and social media campaigns often suggest that carbon purification technology is already at work, extracting the climate-damaging gases from oil and gas installations around the world.
“CO2 capture and transport technologies have been operating safely around the world and in the US for many years,” says oil giant BP’s website.
“Technologies capture CO2 emissions at source or directly from the air,” says Saudi state oil giant Aramco, describing how the carbon is then safely stored underground or converted into “useful products.”
In reality, the technology to capture one major climate-damaging gas is methane, of oil and gas activities exists, and awaits investment to roll out on a large scale. But the technology to capture the largest climate agent, carbon dioxide, itself remains limited in scale and costly, and often energy intensive.
The International Energy Agency, some national governments worldwide, and many climate scientists and advocates firmly believe that while carbon capture technology will play a role, oil and gas production itself must be phased out.
“Actual experience is that commercial-scale carbon capture projects fall far short of claims,” said David Schlissel of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis research group.
“I just think it’s foolish to think that we can keep pumping the stuff, CO2, methane, into the atmosphere, and we’re going to be able to catch it at some point,” Schlissel said.
A spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute trade group declined to comment. An industry study group in 2019 called for heavy government funding to capture a quarter of current greenhouse gases within 15 years.
– API supports federal policy to reach the “scale at scale” commercial CCUS deployment,
The battle – rapid production cuts versus technological rescue – promises to come to a head this year.
Annual UN-sponsored climate talks designed to keep countries on track to deliver on their commitments to cut emissions will be held this year in the United Arab Emirates.
The talks are led by Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of the Emirati state oil company. Like the US and several other countries, the Gulf Nation is expanding drilling even as it champions the climate cause.
At the start of climate talks in November, al-Jaber is calling for a phase-out of fossil fuel emissions, leaving it unclear whether he means an acceleration of technology or open to production cuts.
At the 2021 UN climate talks in Scotland, countries agreed for the first time to phase out global coal use. Talks the following year in Egypt put great pressure on a commitment to phase out oil and gas, but failed.
While not binding, any agreement from this year’s climate talks that the world should begin phasing out oil and gas production would be a first. It would push governments and industry to comply.
Kerry rejected the idea of putting a deadline on phasing out oil and gas production. How quickly that can happen depends in part on how quickly the world transitions to electric vehicles and renewable energy power grids, he said.
Instead, he said, this year’s climate talks will “quite possibly” produce an international agreement to phase out the use of “unabated” oil and natural gas, that is, oil and gas where carbon emissions are not captured. This could disappoint those advocating rapid reductions in oil and gas production.
Kerry said the deadline to watch is 2030. By then, says the UN’s top climate panel, the world will need to cut climate-damaging emissions by nearly half to stave off the more devastating scenarios of global warming.
“We can’t let wish or hope rule common sense here,” Kerry said. “If we know we can get the job done by deploying more renewables and current technology, we should.”