Leading climate scientists and academics are calling on the federal government to abandon a proposed tax credit that gives big polluters a break for investing in carbon capture technology.

The experts say the planned carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) tax credit will lock in fossil fuel use and risk ruining Canada’s chances of meeting emission reduction goals.

In a letter signed by more than 400 experts and sent to the federal government’s finance, natural resources and environment departments Wednesday, the group warned a tax credit that incentivizes carbon capture technologies amounts to a major new fossil fuel subsidy — something the federal government has repeatedly promised to phase out.

“When we're focusing our resources and attention on technologies that are prolonging fossil fuel use, it means we have less resources and less attention to focus on technologies and innovations that will allow us to move away from fossil fuel use,” said Christina Hoicka, an associate professor at the University of Victoria who drafted the letter with a handful of others.

She described the letter as “a really big cross-section of scholars of energy and climate change in Canada,” including “many Canada research chairs, as well as authors of the reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Carbon capture technology refers to the methods used by companies to trap carbon dioxide released during industrial processes. This prevents it from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming. Some varieties of the technology can capture carbon released when fuel is burned and even suck carbon directly out of the air. Once the carbon dioxide is captured, it can be stored indefinitely underground or transported through pipes for different industrial uses.

In Canada, SaskPower’s coal-fired power plant Boundary Dam installed a generator equipped with carbon capture technology in 2014, initially promising to trap 90 per cent of emissions. Boundary Dam is one of the country’s top emitters, pumping out about five million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. According to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, the plant has consistently failed to meet its promised carbon capture goals. Its plan to capture 90 per cent of emissions was dropped in favour of an easier 65 per cent target, but the facility still fails to regularly meet that, too.

Even though carbon capture technologies remain largely ineffective, they are being touted by fossil fuel producers as a viable way to lower their emissions during the production process. In Alberta, proposals for a “carbon grid” have been swirling that would see a network of pipelines connect the province’s oilsands operations in the hope of creating a massive market for the greenhouse gas.

While some environmentalists applaud any emission reductions, others are concerned about technologies that allow for sustained fossil fuel use. That’s because even if emissions from the production and refining of oil could be brought to zero, 80 per cent of the oil and gas sector’s pollution comes when its product is ultimately burned, and there is still no way to trap the carbon that comes out of a tailpipe.

The primary market for captured carbon is also among oil and gas companies, which use it for enhanced oil recovery. This involves injecting CO2 into an oil reservoir, making it easier to produce more oil. At SaskPower’s Boundary Dam, for example, most of the carbon captured is used for enhanced oil recovery. The letter notes that globally, 80 per cent of captured carbon is used for this purpose.

With a rapidly shrinking timeline to slash emissions, carbon capture won't be an effective way to deal with climate change before catastrophe hits, warn hundreds of experts in a letter to the federal government. #cdnpoli

But there are some more benign uses for the captured carbon as well. Some refineries, like the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., captures carbon dioxide from its industrial process for use in carbonated drinks. In Irving Oil’s case, it pipes CO2 to a facility owned by Linde Canada. It’s a relatively small amount of the refinery’s total emissions, however: in 2019, Irving Oil spewed 2.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and reported capturing only about 53,000 tonnes.

Consultations on the CCUS tax credit kicked off in June, with the federal government eager to develop technology that can trap carbon emissions from heavy-emitting sectors. The tax credit is expected to be available to companies later this year.

Ottawa has said the credit will be available for “a broad range” of applications, including direct air capture (sucking carbon dioxide right out of the atmosphere), blue hydrogen projects or to industrial sectors like concrete production and fuel refining, but it’s not intended for enhanced oil recovery projects. Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced using natural gas with carbon capture technology applied. As previously reported by Canada’s National Observer, the federal government is on the hunt to include the oil and gas industry in the country’s hydrogen plans.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson reportedly said the credit would look similar to an incentive in the U.S. and confirmed carbon capture used to boost oil production would not be included.

The letter warns against enhanced oil recovery but more broadly takes issue with the tax credit serving as a fossil fuel subsidy. It also points to the U.S. carbon capture credit, called Section 45Q, and says if Canada is going to adopt something similar, it should learn from America’s mistakes. The top finding is that 45Q has been a major boon to American oil companies that could result in an extra 400,000 barrels of oil per day by 2035. That translates into roughly 50 million tonnes of added carbon emissions annually.

In essence, “deploying CCUS at any climate-relevant scale, carried out within the short timeframe we have to avert climate catastrophe without posing substantial risks to communities on the front lines of the buildout, is a pipe dream,” the letter reads.

The letter does offer a few recommendations if Ottawa chooses to push forward. They are to ensure enhanced oil recovery projects aren’t eligible, that the credit only be available to sectors where there are no decarbonizing options available, carbon capture efforts are independently monitored and verified, that long-term environmental and fiscal risks around CO2 storage sites are met before credits are issued, and that Indigenous and front-line communities are included in the design of the tax credit to help hold companies accountable.

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Thank you for this article. I followed the link to the letter. There's a long and impressive list of signatories. Will anyone in the federal government listen?

Did any of the signatories endorse the Liberals climate plan before the last election? (Profs. Mark Jaccard and Andrew Weaver are not on the list.) We all knew what we were getting.
The Liberals plan to fail on climate. Their goal is to "green" fossil fuels, not get off them.

Government and industry are staking emissions reductions plans ("net-zero" by 2050) on white elephants like carbon capture and storage (CCS), SMRs, and blue hydrogen. Net-zero upstream emissions targets are greenwashing. As the article notes, capturing upstream operations does nothing to reduce the 80–90% of emissions downstream at the consumer end. CCS does not capture other air pollutants.

Energy ecologist Vaclav Smil: "Mark my words, there’ll be no massive sequestration of carbon. There hasn’t been any, and there’ll not be any next year, or 2025, or 2030.
"…The scale. We now make about 37 billion tons of CO2. 10% of that is 3.7 billion tons. Say 4 billion tons of C02, just to control 10% of the problem. This is almost exactly the amount of crude oil we produce. It took us 100-plus years to develop an industry, which is taking 4 billion tons out of the ground and with the gradient, and then taking it up and refining and using it. Now we would have to develop a new industry, which would take 4 billion tons, and store it, push it against the gradient into the ground, and guarantee that it will stay there forever. Something like this cannot be done in 5, or 10, or 15 years. And this is 10%. So, simply on the matter of scale, carbon sequestration is just simply dead on arrival."
"Vaclav Smil: We Must Leave Growth Behind" (Intelligencer – New York Magazine)
https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/09/vaclav-smil-on-the-need-to-aband...
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"Current net zero policies will not keep warming to within 1.5°C because they were never intended to. They were and still are driven by a need to protect business as usual, not the climate. If we want to keep people safe then large and sustained cuts to carbon emissions need to happen now. That is the very simple acid test that must be applied to all climate policies. The time for wishful thinking is over."
"Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap" (The Conversation, April 22, 2021)
https://theconversation.com/climate-scientists-concept-of-net-zero-is-a-...

Worse, industry wants to stick taxpayers with the bill. Just what Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson intends. So much for polluter pay.
No way should taxpayers be on the hook to clean up industry's pollution. The cost of doing business. Hugely profitable oilsands companies can pay for carbon capture without taxpayer help.

AB Premier Jason Kenney wants the federal govt to cough up $30 billion in funding to explore carbon capture technologies. And that's just for starters.
"Oil companies ask Canada to pay for 75% of carbon capture facilities" (Reuters October 7, 2021)
https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/exclusive-oil-companies-ask-canad...
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"Alberta asks federal government to commit $30B to advance carbon capture technologies" (CBC, Mar 08, 2021)
https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/ucp-federal-government-30-billion...
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"What's the cost of cutting oilsands' carbon emissions? A cool $75 billion" (Bloomberg News, Jul 08, 2021)
"It will cost about $75 billion to zero out GHGs from oilsands operations by 2050, with a good deal of the costs borne by taxpayers and many loose ends yet to be tied up, according to two of the industry's top CEOs.
"To achieve the goal announced last month, about half of the emission cuts would need to come from capturing carbon at oilsands sites and sequestering it deep underground, which may require as much as two-thirds government capital like in Norway, Mark Little, chief executive office of Suncor Energy Inc., said in an interview."
https://financialpost.com/commodities/energy/oil-gas/oil-sands-carbon-cu...

Privatize the profits, socialize the costs. The fossil fuel industry's business model.

THANKS!

400 ACADEMICS signed this letter: it's incorrect to label them as "experts". A valid view point, but the reporting is pretty one-sided. In the short-term the industry will not disappear, as much as many would like, so its footprint must be reduced. CCS will not be a global solution, but it has been shown to have impacts regionally, and is much more effective than other options that get more favourable reporting. E.g.s. - amount captured and stored by Shell's Quest project in AB: up to 1.2 million tpa. IEA Nov 21 report - 19 direct air capture projects combined capture 0.01 million tonnes.... Clime Works project in Iceland: 4000 tpa captured. So, "experts", and reporters - I suggest you do a bit more homework, and do more than just sign petitions.

Canada currently captures only 4-5 Mt of CO2 per year. On the order of emissions from PEI and the three Arctic territories. (2019)
Globally, CCS projects stored around 50 Mt in 2020. On the order of emissions from Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. 0.1% of global annual carbon emissions.

Current emission reductions from the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR)) are a drop in the bucket. $1.2 billion to bury 1.6 Mt of CO2 a year. $495 million from AB taxpayers. $63.2 million from federal taxpayers. $558 million in tax dollars for a drop in the bucket in emission reductions.
If the AB govt had invested $495 million in public transit, energy efficiency and conservation, building retrofits, and renewables, it could have cut far more than 1.6 Mt.

"The current volume of CO₂ injected and stored is approximately 1.6 million tonnes of CO₂ per year. Designed with excess capacity to move 14.6 million tonnes of CO₂ per year, the ACTL system will connect more facilities in the future as demand increases for an effective solution to manage emissions."
The ACTL System: Frequently Asked Questions
https://actl.ca/actl-project/faqs/

"To date, Quest has captured and stored over 5 million tonnes of CO2." (Jul. 09, 2020)
Quest CCS Facility Captures And Stores Five Million Tonnes Of CO2 Ahead Of Fifth Anniversary
https://www.shell.ca/en_ca/media/news-and-media-releases/news-releases-2...

From the article:
"She described the letter as “a really big cross-section of scholars of energy and climate change in Canada,” including “many Canada research chairs, as well as authors of the reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”"
OK, if those people don't count as experts, who the heck does?
You say in the short term the fossil fuel industry will not disappear . . . first, define short term. Next year? No, I guess not. Next ten years? It better be shrinking seriously by then. Next thirty years? Yes, it should be mostly gone at that point.
But in any case, that isn't an argument about what should be done. We have to get rid of the fossil fuel industry, and in any case it IS going to happen because we're reaching the tipping point where the alternatives are cheaper. So sure, no matter what we do this morning, there will still be a fossil fuel industry this time tomorrow--how does that mean that we should subsidize it? There is a time span in which the fossil fuel industry will be gone, and it is in our interests to make that time span faster, not slower.

As to CCS, the evidence is pretty clear that, first, it is far more expensive and far less effective than other things we could do and, second, fossil fuel companies are not pushing the technology because they want to help the climate but because they want to keep making money. In our society that's an understandable motivation, but it doesn't mean we should be suckers. Any position taken by fossil fuel companies around climate change should be assumed to be a con, because running a con is the only course of action they are financially motivated to do.

Just another rotten fossil fuel subsidy under another rotten specious lie.