Will Scotland ever be saved from the carbon capture con?

by | 19 Jul 2023

It doesn't matter how comprehensive or compelling the evidence that Carbon Capture and Storage doesn't work or how hard it is to understand why Scotland needs it - the Scottish Government keeps laundering big oil anyway

OK, one more time round the same old merry-go-round. I hope to stop writing this article when the Scottish Government stops making me write it but, for now, I will try doggedly to explain why the Scottish Government’s climate change plans are not only insufficient, they’re wrong and damaging.

Before I do, can we now pause to understand where the world stands. We exist now, in reality, in a circumstance where extreme weather is no longer extreme, it’s just weather. In Iran yesterday the temperature pushed up close to the point at which human life is no longer possible. Simply put, if our body can’t cool us faster by sweating than the ambient temperature heats us up, we die. The more humid it is, the less the air absorbs our sweat, the lower the fatal temperature.

And that’s the world we’ve created. It’s happening now and not only are the effects of human activity not yet fully filtered through (no matter what we do now it will get worse), our current brilliant plan is to keep making things worse for another 30 years and then – stop making it worse. Not make it better, muck up the planet at breakneck speed for 30 years and then achieve a steady state.

I want you to get a sense of how serious this is. The weather that is approaching is incompatible with the food system we currently have. That will break down, and there will be mass starvation. So people will move, since the alternative is death. But this is billions of people. The migration crisis just now (and sorry liberals, it is a crisis) is peanuts compared to what is coming. Half a dead planet will be looking for a new home.

So the ongoing global foot-dragging is a kind of global suicide. The arseholes (sorry, but that’s what you are) who keep saying ‘oh but it’s many years until we can stop using fossil fuels so pump away’ should be so ashamed of themselves they don’t leave their houses. “Oh, but the big wall is still 200 metres away – accelerate!”

And in Scotland it is the entire nation that should be ashamed. There are parts of the planet where it is genuinely difficult to decarbonise – and we’re not one of them. Sadly we are one of the ones who has a big oil industry and a spineless government.

In the last few days there have been two stories that sketch out the size and shape of our shame. The first (not chronologically) is First Minister Yousaf’s moan that Scotland would be already there if it wasn’t for Westminster undermining it. This was only about the failure of the UK to follow through on plans on Carbon Capture and Storage.

Money beyond the dreams of the Scottish Government has been spent on CCS plants around the world and they all fail

Let’s do this again. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) doesn’t work. Money beyond the dreams of the Scottish Government has been spent on CCS plants around the world and they all fail. Even in as far as they work at all, no-one pretends they take all of the carbon emissions out the atmosphere (a perfect system might manage 70 per cent). They’re a con.

How do they work? Well its an idea the Cat in the Hat would have been proud of. You take the bad thing you’re doing and you… sweep it under the carpet. Or rather you run it through pipes into giant underground storage forever (in Scotland that would be used subsea oil wells). You can see how major that engineering job is, can’t you? And it doesn’t work. And no-one knows if the CO2 will just leak anyway.

The next question is ‘what is attached to the other end’? At the one side is a giant hole in the ground miles under water. What’s at the other side? Let’s start by discounting what isn’t at the other side. It isn’t the exhaust pipe of your car. It isn’t your domestic heating boiler. It’s not all Scotland’s non-industrial businesses. It clearly isn’t the fields or cows’ arses.

And yet three quarters of Scotland’s carbon emissions come from agriculture, business, residential and domestic transport. The role CCS would play in reducing emissions in any of these cases is zero. And that’s if it worked. Or existed.

The places you might feasibly fit CCS are energy generation (a bit over a tenth of Scotland’s emissions) and large industrial sites (almost exactly one per cent of Scotland’s emissions). And since it is so, so easy to decarbonise all electricity supply in Scotland without mental-expensive CCS (that doesn’t work), why is it even a consideration?

There isn’t a credible case for CCS in Scotland. It’s remarkable that we’re one of the few countries still rattling on about this. Just get the numbers clear – global investment in CCS is currently about $6.4 billion globally. To help you understand how piddling that is, a plant in the US that cost $1 billion only ever captured three million tonnes of carbon before it was mothballed as a failure in 2020 (and that figures is disputed).

Get your calculator out and work out the staggering inefficiency of CCS or the global cost if this actually was a legitimate solution to climate change. There is no version of it that makes sense to anyone who approaches the subject rationally and based on evidence.

But rationality and evidence is not what the CCS industry is about. It is one of the greatest con-jobs played on humanity. It is the fraudulent dream of the oil industry. It needs you to believe that there is a way that we can keep burning fossil fuels without killing everyone. There isn’t; it is a lie. But the oil industry is the single biggest liar of our generation, lies which have ravaged the planet.

The oil giants have got the Scottish Government like a wee puppet, running around telling you that there is a future for oil and gas if only we had Carbon Capture and Storage

Which takes us to the other news story you need to be aware of – the 30 initially secret meetings the Scottish Government had with the oil industry as it developed its awful hydrogen strategy, which isn’t a hydrogen strategy but a petrochemical strategy. Let me explain.

The oil companies are on the brink of not being able to sell their dominant product; this scorched summer is going to heap more and more pressure on their stinking business model. They need a new way to launder their product, and their number one partner is the Scottish Government.

The way they are going to launder it is as follows; there are two ways to make hydrogen, one from electricity and water, the other from petrochemicals (and other substances such as ammonia). If you use the former and use renewable electricity, hydrogen is carbon-free. If you use the former you break down the petrochemicals into hydrogen and… CO2.

Scotland has loads and loads of spare electricity potential. Any hydrogen needs we have are easily met, and there is scope for a major export industry too. That is what the oil companies and the Scottish Government are desperately trying to stop. They constantly co-opt the words of climate change science to mean the opposite of what it should mean, so they call dirty hydrogen a ‘transition fuel’.

But transition to where? In what version of the future do people think hydrogen replaces petrochemicals? Or anything much? It is inherently very expensive. Other than the vanishingly rare Francium, hydrogen is the most explosive element in the period table, and that is just a way of saying that it is extremely reactive, which is also a way of saying that breaking its molecular bonds takes a shit-ton of energy. Mother nature means it will never be cheap.

It’s great for large-scale, long-term energy storage (though is quite inefficient) and some specialist applications like aviation fuel or fuel cells for ships. Space rockets need it and there is a range of chemical processes which need it. But using it to run your car or heat your house? You’re kidding.

The oil giants have got the Scottish Government like a wee puppet, running around telling you that there is a future for oil and gas if only we had CCS. That solves all three of the oil industry’s problems – laundering its product, slowing down the development of Green Hydrogen and capturing the market for all hydrogen by monopolising the production of dirty hydrogen.

It solves not a single one of Scotland’s problems, or the world’s. The Scottish Government is a climate villain and for the love of god Scotland’s media will you call them out for it? The globally-respected Climate Change Committee ripped Scotland’s net zero plans apart because they basically all rely on CCS. They are not credible.

So once again, the planet is in serious trouble, not in the future but now. Oil and gas is the overwhelming problem and is no part of the solution. The Scottish Government talks green but is knee-deep in oily black. No-one is properly holding them to account. And a bunch of people who should know better are reciting ‘but we need oil and gas for another 30 years so pump, baby, pump’ as if they are wise and not moronic.

Westminster absolutely is to blame, but not for the reasons our First Minister cites. It is the fiscal idiocy of both the Tories and Labour which is preventing the very large scale capital investment needed for decarbonisation. The nonsensical garbage that is CCS has nothing to do with it.

And that’s us back to the beginning of the merry-go-round. Enjoy your global climate change breakdown until Humza Yousaf is again caught with his tongue up the arse of the oil industry and needs a quick distraction by blaming Westminster for his failures. At which point I’ll feel obliged to write this article. Again.

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