Apr 19, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Exxon pitches $100 billion carbon capture zone to industry and Biden officials

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Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Exxon is calling for expansive industry-government collaboration to develop big carbon capture and storage projects around Houston, Texas.

Why it matters: Technology to trap emissions and permanently stash them underground could become a tool against global warming, but deployment has been very slow to get off the ground and remains in the nascent stages.

  • The Houston area is dotted with major petrochemical, manufacturing and power facilities.

Driving the news: "We believe the time is right for a large-scale collaboration in the United States between government at every level, private industry, academia and local communities to create an 'Innovation Zone' approach to dramatically accelerate [carbon capture and storage] progress," Joe Blommaert, head of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, said in a blog post Monday.

The big picture: Exxon's proposal summary argues the region is ripe for the effort — it has lots of industrial facilities and it's located near subsea geologic formations that can store large amounts of CO2.

  • "It would be a huge project, requiring the collective support of industry and government, with a combined estimated investment of $100 billion or more," Blommaert's post notes.
  • Exxon did not offer an estimate of how much of the cost should come from the industry.

The intrigue: Exxon said it has already briefed government officials and industry groups, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), Sen. John Cornyn (R), House members in the region, and the Greater Houston Partnership.

  • Casey Norton, a spokesperson, tells Axios they have "had conversations" with the Biden administration about the idea, but did not provide further details.
  • Norton also said they've begun reaching out to other companies. “In general we’re looking at 50 of the largest industrial companies in the Houston region,” he said.

By the numbers: They estimate that with "appropriate policies in place," infrastructure could be created in Houston to capture and store 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030 and 100 million per year by 2040.

  • For comparison, that 2040 total would be about 2% of what the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates were 5,130 million metric tons of U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2019 (a tally that also includes transportation, the biggest source).
  • Exxon's proposal also says the experience gained in Houston could be applied to other U.S. areas with lots of heavy industry that's near storage sites, like the midwest and elsewhere in the Gulf.

What we don't know: Whether the proposal will have legs. Exxon's post says that in addition to private and government funding, the plan would require policy changes.

  • The U.S. already provides some tax incentives for CO2-trapping projects. But they company says large-scale capture and storage requires a "durable regulatory and legal environment" to boost investment.
  • Blommaert's post also calls for a price on carbon, which faces huge hurdles on Capitol Hill.

What we're watching: The reaction from Biden administration officials and lawmakers.

  • The effort comes as Exxon faces growing pressure from activist investors and environmentalists to do much more on climate change, but carbon capture isn't popular among some green groups.
  • In addition, activists are pressing for policies that quickly move the country away from fossil fuels at a time when low-carbon projects remain a very small part of major oil companies' spending.

Go deeper: Exxon outlines plan to expand carbon capture efforts

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