Dec 8, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Exxon delays CO2-trapping project in sign of technology's "unmet expectations"

Carbon capture illustration
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Exxon has paused plans to develop a major carbon storage project in Wyoming as the pandemic curtails industry spending plans, according to Bloomberg.

Why it matters: Experts, including the UN's climate science panel, say CO2 trapping and removal tech will need to play a role in holding warming in check.

Yes, but: As Bloomberg notes...

  • "[I]n the absence of strong government support or regulation, the oil industry might not have the will to invest enough."
  • "Even if Exxon one day completes its plans in Wyoming, the current delay shows that urgent climate projects can sometimes become expendable in a crunch."

What they're saying: Exxon, in a statement to Axios, said LaBarge has not been canceled.

  • The project "remains in our capital plans and the permitting process and necessary design work continue," spokesperson Casey Norton said via email.
Data: In million metric tons, sourced from IEA; Note: Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: In million metric tons, sourced from IEA; Note: Chart: Axios Visuals

The big picture: An International Energy Agency report this fall on carbon-trapping tech shows just how far away it is from playing a major emissions-cutting role despite recent growth.

  • The study says CO2 capture and storage is a story of "unmet expectations" thus far.
  • "[I]ts potential to mitigate climate change has been recognised for decades, but deployment has been slow and so has had only a limited impact on global CO2 emissions."

By the numbers: The roughly two dozen large-scale carbon capture facilities around the world currently have the capacity to trap about 40 million tons per year, IEA data shows.

What's next: Despite the slow development, IEA sees some momentum, noting the global pipeline of new projects is growing and costs are falling. Plus, as the Bloomberg piece writes, global efforts include...

  • "A Norwegian project to capture carbon from a cement plant is backed by Equinor, Shell, and Total. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in November government support for CCS."
  • "Exxon and Shell are among companies supporting the Netherlands’ Porthos project to bury CO₂ in empty gas fields beneath the North Sea."
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