Scotland will never have Carbon Capture and Storage

by | 31 Jul 2023

Carbon Capture and Storage isn't about taking carbon out of the atmosphere, it's to provide politicians with a fig leaf to cover up their sycophantic support for Big Oil and endless drilling in Scotland's waters. Scotland is now a climate villain.

This is my strong guess; travel a hundred years into the future and you will find no record of a working Carbon Capture and Storage plant in Scotland. What makes me so confident? Carbon Capture and Storage doesn’t work, we don’t need it , we have little to do with it even if we did and we’re not spending anything like enough if we were serious anyway.

Nope, today’s announcement is not about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and it is not about decarbonisation and it is not about ‘energy transition’. The SNP and the Tories are falling over themselves for CCS for a single, simple reason – it is what the oil companies want. But it marks the end of the idea that Scotland is anything other than a climate villain.

Let’s dispose of this quickly; I’ve explain countless times that CCS doesn’t work in practice and barely works in theory. Just watch this funny video. Every time someone tries a large-scale CCS project it fails. And that’s based on self-reporting and lack of proper monitoring. And no-one knows if it will work in the long term or whether CO2 will just leak again.

Even then, even if it could be made to work at close to the theoretical maximum efficiency, it would still leave about a third of the emissions escaping into the environment – and that’s without counting the energy needed to run the plant in the first place. Even if it worked it doesn’t work.

And so you need to really, really need the very expensive process of CCS if you’re actually going to go ahead, and Scotland has zero need for it. If this was in any way viable, would the super-rich oil conglomerates not have invested the money already? No, because they know it doesn’t work.

So does Rishi Sunak, and so does Humza Yousef. But they both know that they’re not really serious about building it and they know that, even if they try, it will turn out to be an expensive debacle which fails – but not while they’re in charge. Announcing the failure will be someone else’s problem.

Scotland does not need and now barely uses massive single-site carbon-emitting industrial sites. In particular our energy generation is mostly clean and is distributed, and as I pointed out last week, the things that do produce Scotland’s carbon (households, transport, land and so on) cannot have their carbon ‘captured’. We have almost no need of it at all.

And let me just remind you of scale; the most recent CCS plant to fail cost about £1 billion. Sunak says UK will dedicate ‘millions’. Unless it’s hundreds of millions pounds, colour me sceptical. You can’t knock up a working CCS plant connected to a series of exhausted deep sea oil wells for a few million.

As I point out, it doesn’t work, it won’t work, we don’t need it, we don’t even have anything obvious to use it for and in any case we’re not investing enough money to realise the project. It’s one of the most spurious proposals I’ve come across in politics, up there with Sturgeon announcing Scotland was going to be a ‘world leader in 5G’.

Nope, I don’t believe Scotland will ever pump so much as a kid’s birthday balloon worth of carbon dioxide into a hole in the ground. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps Sunak (i.e. Rishi Sunak) and Yousef (i.e. Humza Yousef) know how to build such a facility that actually works, but doing it incredibly cheaply. But the track record of neither of them suggests this is even faintly possible.

It doesn’t work, it won’t work, we don’t need it, we don’t even have anything obvious to use it for and in any case we’re not investing enough money to realise the project

So what are we doing this for then? The Scottish Government knows this isn’t going to work and never really believed it was going to work. So does the UK Government. But, and let’s just cut to the chase here, announcing lots of new licenses for drilling oil would be a bit controversial all things considered. Which therefore requires a quick application of some greenwashing.

CCS (if it can be made to work) could have some minor role in decarbonising industrial sites which produce a lot of CO2 as an unavoidable byproduct, but those are few and far between. Otherwise its only real purpose is to prolong the extraction of oil and gas.

And that’s where we are. The Scottish Government knows this because it seems always to behave as a puppet of the oil and gas industry and its major players. The UK Government knows this because they’re Tories, a group of people who seem to hate the planet, so just want to take the edge of their new culture war with climate change policy with some tokenism.

Everyone who is involved in this is doing it solely in the interests of Big Oil. Well, and in the case of the Scottish Government, to prolong the pretence that it is a leader in climate change because of its actions rather than because it is the government of a windy country and the price of technology for converting wind into electricity has plummeted over the last decade.

I can’t repeat this enough times; almost nowhere in the world has the capacity to decarbonise as quickly and easily in Scotland so the fact we’re not doing it is utterly disgraceful. We’re the most awful climate liars. It’s appalling.

For the last year when data is available (2020) the UK extracted 49 Megatonnes of oil and gas and then immediately exported 38.3 Megatonnes. This idea that we’re just meeting our own needs is a lie. We’re not. And mostly this climate villainy is happening in Scotland.

So we lie about it in Scotland. And we lie about the damage we’re doing. Scotland’s official carbon emissions statistics have a giant hole. We don’t account for Scottish-produced carbon if that carbon is released somewhere else (because they burn our oil) – and nor do we account for the carbon that is emitted during the production of our imports. No matter how much carbon the things you buy caused, we pretend it didn’t happen.

CCS will work precisely as intended – it will launder Big Oil and allow it to expand rapidly in Scottish waters before the empirical evidence that this is all a lie is revealed

Stop and think about that for a second; we’re expecting other nations to take responsibility for the emissions of our oil and gas but we expect them to take responsibility for the emissions of our consumption?

That is a very big lie. In reality, when the true nature of the carbon emitted into the atmosphere because of things we do in Scotland, including our consumption but excluding the burning of our oil and gas, we are emitting about half as much again as we admit. If we included the burning of our oil we’d be one of the dirtiest nations in the world.

And yet we congratulate ourselves on announcing a Climate Emergency and then following it up with a plan that no credible person thinks is credible, brass-necking our way through COPs based on the whiff of a hint that we might be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

Brass-necking it because the people who make the decisions know everything I’ve written above is true – and yet they don’t care, because Big Oil is snapping its fingers and we know what politicians do when they hear that sound.

The result is that Scotland is about to pump massively more carbon into the atmosphere than we are already committed to and we can be sure the liars will continue to lie. Wait until you see the columnists trotting out the line that we might as well produce the oil we consume and CCS will make it cleaner anyway, knowing it is a lie or wilfully not knowing it – because if they didn’t once they definitely do now.

It also hands the oil giants the entire hydrogen industry on a plate, probably forever. The one thing in Scotland you could pretend to do with a CCS attached is make ‘Blue’ (i.e. dirty) hydrogen but then pretend to hide the evidence. That is probably enough to bed-block new entrants in Green (clean) hydrogen from growing a market position and allows the oil giants to do just enough to capture the industry infrastructure, potentially guaranteeing a monopoly position forever.

And the Scottish Government is helping with all of this. All of it – then going on about how ‘progressive’ it is.

Of course, I should revise my whole position by this stage. CCS will work precisely as intended. It will launder Big Oil and allow it to expand rapidly in Scottish waters before the empirical evidence that this is all a lie is revealed.

It turns my stomach. As the father of young children who will have to live in the world we’re going to create with these lies, I’m angry. And I’m ashamed of Scotland. Really ashamed.

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