Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Texas carbon capture project hailed as a key solution to climate change has been "mothballed" over low oil prices, E&E News reported on Tuesday evening. 

Our thought bubble: The news is unsurprising but nonetheless emblematic of the complex relationship between climate policies and oil prices, which collapsed along with oil demand in the wake of the pandemic.

How it works: The Petra Nova project, which I visited in 2018 for this column, captured a small share of the carbon dioxide emissions from an adjoining coal plant, which were then used to extract oil out of the ground through a process called enhanced oil recovery.

  • That process is expensive, so oil prices need to be higher than where they are now (around $40 a barrel) to sustain it financially.

Between the lines: Two schools of thought persist about the relationship between climate policies and oil prices. 

  • Oil (and natural gas) prices need to be high to force behavior change on behalf of businesses and consumers.
  • Oil and gas prices should be low to allow the political room for all sides to compromise on big policy. 

But, but, but: The problems with those two schools of thought, in order: 

  • High oil prices often compels politicians into imminent crisis mode (price manipulation! Investigate OPEC!), so they're not thinking about longer-term climate policies.
  • If prices are too low, it makes it harder for more expensive technology — whether that's carbon capture or electric cars — to compete with fossil fuels. We're seeing this play out now with Petra Nova.

What we're watching: A spokesman for the company behind the project, NRG Energy, says it will come back online when "economics improve" (code for when oil prices go back up, which is not a given any time soon).

Go deeper: The oily path to combating climate change

Go deeper

Shale's struggles will persist despite a rise in oil prices

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

WTI, the benchmark U.S. oil future, traded Wednesday morning at its highest since early March — highlighting how the worst of shale's crisis is seemingly over, though more bankruptcies likely lie ahead.

Why it matters: Its price at the time — $43 — is still too low for many producers to do well, though it varies from company to company.

Biden's clean energy push resonates in Senate battlegrounds

Data: Data for Progress; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Joe Biden's climate posture is a political winner in four states where Senate races and the presidential contest are competitive, per new polling from progressive think tank Data for Progress.

Why it matters: Biden has tethered the spending portion of his energy and climate platform to his wider economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, which could mean a quick push for legislative action if he wins.

Appeals court allows House Democrats to continue lawsuit for Don McGahn testimony

Don McGahn in an October 2018 Cabinet meeting. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

A D.C. appeals court on Friday allowed House Democrats to continue their case for testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn before the House Judiciary Committee.

Why it matters: McGahn was one of the most important witnesses in Robert Mueller's investigation. He appears on 66 pages of the Mueller report and played a central role in some of its juiciest revelations, including the fact that President Trump once asked him to fire Mueller.