Sub­sur­face PROB­LEMS

Car­bon cap­ture and stor­age tech­nol­ogy has im­mense po­ten­tial for Canada’s oil in­dus­try, but comes at a stag­ger­ing cost. Will it ever be truly vi­able?


AL­BERTA HAS BEEN CAP­TUR­ING CAR­BON for three decades. Yet, ask any­one who spends their days con­tem­plat­ing car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (CCS) about its fu­ture in the prov­ince and you’re likely to get sim­i­lar re­sponses from each: a small sigh, fol­lowed by de­scrip­tors like “dis­ap­point­ing” and “not good.” It wasn’t sup­posed to be like this.

The sigh­ing is no doubt re­lated to the high am­bi­tions for CCS un­der the Al­berta gov­ern­ment’s cli­mate change plan of 2008. A gar­gan­tuan 139 mega­tons of emis­sions – over two-thirds of pro­jected re­duc­tions – were to be cut from Al­berta’s pro­jected “business- as-usual” emis­sions by 2050, mostly by way of CCS tech­nol­ogy. David Keith, pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­icy and ap­plied physics at Har­vard Univer­sity, says it was “an ill-in­formed claim by a gov­ern­ment that lacked an­a­lyt­i­cal ca­pa­bil­i­ties or any se­ri­ous in­ter­est in tack­ling cli­mate.”

Be­fore the re­lease of the Al­berta NDP’s new en­vi­ron­men­tal poli­cies in late 2015, CCS was the clos­est thing the prov­ince ever had to a tan­gi­ble plan on cli­mate change. A $2-bil­lion car­bon cap­ture fund was set aside by Al­berta’s pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment, which in­cluded fund­ing for Shell Canada’s Quest pro­ject, lo­cated near the Scot­ford Up­grader north of Ed­mon­ton.

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