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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

Election likely hardens political limits of Biden climate agenda

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A potential President Joe Biden would face an oppositional Senate and a skeptical world if he tried to enact an aggressive climate-change agenda.

Driving the news: Odds are increasing that Biden will win the White House while Congress is likely to remain divided, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats leading the House.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 4, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Climate's role in the chaotic election

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Should Joe Biden ultimately win the White House, his climate agenda will almost certainly be limited — at least for the foreseeable future — to what he can pursue using executive powers.

The state of play: While several Senate races are outstanding, Democrats look unlikely to regain the majority in that chamber despite pickups in Colorado and Arizona, which aren't enough.

The no-wave rally begins

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. stocks which analysts and strategists insisted had been rising based on the anticipation of a blue wave Democratic victory in the House, Senate and White House — had their best day in nearly seven months as that possibility looked to be wiped off the table.

  • While some races have not yet been called, Democrat Joe Biden looks poised to win in his election against President Trump, but so do many incumbent Republicans senators.

What they're saying: Some attributed the stock market's surge — the Nasdaq rose 3.9% and the S&P 500 gained 2.2% — to the market's happiness with a potential divided government and discounted prospects of tax increases. However, there were other explanations...