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Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Australia pushes for Unabated Fossil Fuel Phaseout at COP28, while Australia opens offshore CCS opportunities to expand Fossil gas

Santos Bayu-Undan carbon capture
and storage project
Australia's Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has been forward in supporting Fossil Fuel Phaseout or phasedown at COP28. But his statements almost always come with a qualifying words: unabated, or abatement. 

On 12th December Bowen said "“Some of the world’s largest economies have now called for a phase out of unabated fossil fuels,” 

On 11th December press conference Bowen said "Where we've come from is of course, we came to this COP with the G7 having agreed to a phase out of unabated fossil fuels in energy systems by 2050, a position that the Umbrella group decided to support which I chair obviously, at the beginning of the negotiations, contrary to an erroneous report I read suggesting the Umbrella group does not support that position, let me make it very clear - the Umbrella group supports the phase out of fossil fuels of energy systems by 2050, that's very important - that group of United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Israel, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Japan, Iceland, and Norway.

Bowen was a little more forthright in the Majlis discussion, saying "We don’t need to phase out fossil fuel emissions, we need to end the use of fossil fuels in our energy systems, with abatement as a backstop and goalkeeper, not as an excuse for delay or inaction,”

It is never explained what abated fossil fuels actually means, but this is likely to entail either carbon offsets or carbon capture and storage, both of which are problematic in different ways and come with large integrity issues.

Offshore carbon storage opened up

We have seen the Labor Government opening up offshore undersea CO2 storage with the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) legislation rushed through parliament by a grand coalition in November 2023.

On 9 December former Independent Senator Rex Patrick wrote at Michael West Media on the Environmental Protection (Sea Dumping) bill, carbon capture and storage, Santos, INPEX and expansion of Gas, particularly Santos lobbying on Barossa Gas field near the Tiwi Islands and Darwin Middle Arm petrochemical hub.  

On 9 November Santos signed a deal with Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) on CCS development, which came a week after the grand coalition of Labor, Liberal & Nationals passed the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) legislation, throwing a lifeline to Fossil Gas expansion and providing a convenient fix for Australia to argue for phase out of 'unabated' fossil fuels at COP28 (See Bowen Statements on 11 & 12 December on phaseout of Unabated Fossil Fuels )

Warnings on usefuleness of Carbon capture and Storage

This comes despite expert warnings of ‘Magical’ tech innovations a distraction from real solutions, ncluding CCS. (Guardian)

On December 5 Climate Analytics highlighted the problem with carbon capture and storage in a report: Unabated: the Carbon Capture and Storage 86 billion tonne carbon bomb aimed at derailing a fossil phase out (Climate Analytics). 

There was also paper by Smith School of Environmental Economics at Oxford Uni released on 4 December: Assessing the relative costs of high-CCS and low-CCS pathways to 1.5 degrees, by Andrea Bacilieri, Richard Black, Rupert Way (Oxford Uni PDF)

On 30 November Carbon Capture and Storage Failure was highlighted in a report by Oil Change International - Carbon Capture’s Publicly Funded Failure report by (Oil Change International) Includes analysis of Chevron's Gorgon Project at 40% utilisation capacity, Al Reyadah/Emirates Steel, ADNOC, UAE. Utilization rate: unknown (lack of transparency).  Summary:

  • Governments have spent over $20 billion – and have approved up to $200 billion more – of public money on carbon capture and storage (CCS), providing a lifeline for the fossil fuel industry.
  • 79% of operating carbon capture capacity globally sends captured CO2 to produce more oil (via Enhanced Oil Recovery).
  • Many of the largest CCS projects in the world overpromise and under-deliver, operating far below capacity.

17 November: Offshore Carbon Capture and Storage. 

New report released by Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) assesses the Risks of Carbon Capture and Storage. "Deep Trouble: The Risks of Offshore Carbon Capture and Storage explains the threat presented by a massive buildout of offshore CCS infrastructure and uncovers the government financing and fossil fuel interests enabling and advancing this new wave of projects. 

The report concludes that governments must halt the expansion of offshore CCS by ending subsidies and support for these projects, while interpreting existing laws and strengthening emerging regulations to protect the oceans from absorbing even more of humanity’s waste and safeguard communities, the environment, and the global climate."  (CIEL

Key Conclusions of the CIEL report:

  • Whether on land or under the sea, CCS is not a solution to the climate crisis. CCS is a strategy for industry to stall action on climate and delay the phaseout of fossil fuels.
  • Given the limited global experience with CCS, the proposed scale and complexity of new offshore CCS projects raises major feasibility questions.
  • The risks of CO₂ leaks from underwater pipelines and storage sites pose environmental, health, and safety threats, and could have a significant impact on the marine environment.
  • Oceans are increasingly under stress, and injecting CO₂ under the seabed will create new problems.
  • In targeting oil and gas production zones, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea, for offshore CCS, proponents are promoting CO₂ injection precisely where the risk of leaks is greatest.
  • The history of offshore oil and gas exploration reveals major problems with monitoring industrial activity on the ocean. There is little reason to believe oversight would improve with offshore CCS.
  • A variety of existing domestic and international laws may restrict the deployment of CCS in the oceans, and require governments and companies to exercise precaution in the face of the myriad known and unknown risks it poses. Evolving regulatory regimes for CCS must strengthen protections.
  • Governments must end public subsidies for CCS, especially CCS used for enhanced oil recovery. Instead, governments should direct public resources towards reducing reliance on fossil fuels, scaling up renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency. 

The Australian Marine Conservation Society warned about the perils of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) legislation opening up transfer of CO2 across borders for use in CCS projects in a 14th November media release. AMCS Offshore Oil and Gas Campaigner Manager Louise Morris said: 

“Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies are unproven, unsafe and unviable. It provides cover for the fossil fuel industry to significantly expand in Australia when the world needs to cut fossil fuel use, using CCS as a greenwashing tool for carbon credits and offsets.

“The government backed by the Coalition has greenlit a new fossil fuel industry in Australia. This controversial bill enables the import and export of CO2 across international boundaries to dump carbon pollution under our oceans, and, with agreement, that of our Southeast Asian neighbours, using unproven and unsafe CCS technologies.

“This bill sets Australia on the wrong path to reducing our emissions. Australia’s focus must be on rapidly cutting emissions through stopping new fossil fuel projects and new offshore acreage for oil and gas, in line with best science on how we achieve our Paris commitments.

“Instead, we are seeing the Australian government sink taxpayers’ monies into unproven CCS technologies that extend the life of fossil fuel extraction, and increase the threat to our oceans, communities and climate by dumping carbon pollution into depleted oil and gas wells under the seabed.

“CCS is a false solution for reducing emissions and meaningful action on climate change. It is unproven, unsafe and unviable at scale. Even if sequestration volumes claimed were achieved, it would only offset a small amount of the total amounts being emitted.

“CCS is a boondoggle for the fossil fuel industry, and an exercise in public relations and delay tactics to extend the life of gas and oil.

“There is no requirement for environmental impact assessment to be undertaken for CCS import-export. This is an omission that should have stopped the passing of this bill. Given the significant environmental risks posed by the global trade of greenhouse gases, and dumping carbon pollution under our oceans, CCS projects must require the most stringent of environmental conditions, regulation, monitoring and enforcement.

“The Australian public wants to see real action on climate change that results in a rapid transition away from fossil fuels. Instead this bill enables the expansion of the fossil fuel sector by creating a whole new market in dumping carbon pollution, and greenwashing CCS for carbon offsets and false claims of carbon neutrality.”


Even the International Energy Agency (IEA) report on The Oil and Gas Industry in Net Zero Transitions warns strongly against reliance on carbon capture and storage, except for hard to abate industrial processes. Here is what the IEA report says on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage. See my article on this report: Momemt of truth for Fossil Fuels: Warning from IEA that Fossil Fuel companies need to transition or die

"Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is an essential technology for achieving net zero emissions in certain sectors and circumstances, but it is not a way to retain the status quo. If oil and natural gas consumption were to evolve as projected under today’s policy settings, this would require an inconceivable 32 billion tonnes of carbon captured for utilisation or storage by 2050, including 23 billion tonnes via direct air capture to limit the temperature rise to 1.5 °C. The necessary carbon capture technologies would require 26 000 terawatt hours of electricity generation to operate in 2050, which is more than global electricity demand in 2022. And it would require over USD 3.5 trillion in annual investments all the way from today through to mid-century, which is an amount equal to the entire industry’s annual average revenue in recent years."

The International Instititute for  Sustainable Development (IISD) examined CCS and the push for phase-out of “unabated” fossil fuel production at COP28 just before the conference started.

"The topic of phasing out fossil fuels promises to be a central part of the discussion at COP 28 in Dubai. The European Union, among others, is calling for a phase out of ‘unabated’ fossil fuels. The language of ‘abatement’ leaves a loophole for continued use of fossil fuels as long as a technology to capture the emissions from production is used.

"The technological and economic feasibility of CCS is central in the conversation around ‘abated’ production. Given the challenges that the technology has faced, limiting its use and efficacy to date, it is clear that CCS is not able to abate emissions from fossil fuels sufficiently. Given the absence of other deep and fully developed emissions reductions technologies, abated production is not possible.

Moreover, this loophole is being used to push for prolonging and expanding fossil fuel production and use, with the assumption that CCS and other emissions reductions technologies will suffice. This is problematic, given that the majority of emissions are produced at the end uses of fossil fuels which are not address through CCS. Countries are already planning to produce double the amount of fossil fuels as would be needed under a 1.5C scenario in 2030, exceeding expected global demand, a gap which CCS will not address."

So Australia appears to be supporting gas expansion through supporting 'abatement technologies'.

Australia is not alone in this, with the US as the largest fossil fuel producer also keen on 'abatement'. If you check some of the reports listed above the effectiveness of CCS has been severely limited, often not reaching capacity expectations, sometimes with leakage, and often requiring monitoring. 

Each CCS project has very specific issues to contend with, which makes the technology difficult to scale up effectively.

Read more at Climate Action Merribek: The scam of Carbon Capture and Storage: 5 video explainers

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