Carbon-Capture Failure Is the Green New Deal Gone Sour

John Horvat II | February 14, 2022 | 11:40am EST
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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) addresses remarks made by former President Donald Trump. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) addresses remarks made by former President Donald Trump. (Photo credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Carbon capture is a key component to meet the utopic goals of the Paris Climate Accords. Everywhere, businesses are positioning to lessen their carbon footprints. They are buying carbon credits to offset their unavoidable emissions. 

Carbon capture involves processes that industries can filter carbon dioxide from their emissions, especially in energy production. These projects can involve multi-billion dollar investments in time, capital, and machinery. However, they produce no profits.

Over the years, experts have developed the means to capture carbon from smokestacks, wastes, and the open air. Green-hungry investors anxiously support these efforts for their stock portfolios. Eager to show a commitment to climate change policies, governments provide funding, subsidies, and rhetoric for so worthy a cause. 

However, the scheme is not working. Most projects seem to be rather good at the capturing process. The problem is what to do with the carbon once it is captured. There is no economic use for the product, and therefore the projects flounder. 

In 2016, NRG Energy Inc., for example, launched with great fanfare a $1 billion carbon-capture project attached to its coal-fueled power plant in Texas. After a few years, the project was abandoned because no one could figure out what to do with the carbon. Similar plants, often with massive government funding, have also abandoned this green new deal gone sour. 

The Wall Street Journal reports that over 80 percent of the proposed commercial carbon-capture projects worldwide have failed for the same reason. Even with subsidies, they prove too expensive to operate or suffer from technical issues that do not meet expectations. 

And then there is the captured carbon....

Ironically, the only viable use for the carbon is a process that produces more carbon. Energy companies have found that pumping carbon dioxide into declining oil fields helps coax out more gas and oil. However, the new gas and oil find their way into the market and produce more carbon emissions. The use may help the energy companies’ bottom lines, but it defeats the purpose of carbon capture. 

Thus, most carbon-capture projects outside carbon capture's use in oil wells represent expenses that cut into profits. It makes no business sense. Most firms use the efforts as a public relations ploy to satisfy eco-crazy investors or to impress liberals who will think that they are on board with the latest eco-trends. However, one by one, many of these projects have gone offline.

Their goals being eco-religion- rather than economy-based, the utter failure of carbon capture has not discouraged climate change warriors. Corporate leaders are likewise anxious to carry on the fight. The answer lies not in economically viable use of carbon but the politically adroit pulling of governmental strings. More government money is the quick solution to all these problems. Tax dollars make all failed projects profitable.

The floodgates of government money are opening again. Industries can count on $12.1 billion in funding thanks to the recent $1 trillion infrastructure bill President Biden signed into law in 2021. Oil, chemical, power, and biofuel companies are lining up with new proposals to capture more unusable carbon without cutting into profits. The infrastructure dollars will help them build the equipment needed to capture the gas but will do little to dispose of it. 

For this reason, these industries are proposing yet more government dollars in the form of tax credits that would pay them to bury the carbon or store it safely. Spokesmen say burying the material will require expanded tax subsidies of at least $85 a metric for smokestack carbon and as much as $180 for open-air carbon. They foresee building a vast network of pipelines that will pump all this useless carbon to burial or oil-pumping sites around the country.   

Even with all the expansion in capture capacity, the world will fall short of its “net-zero” carbon emissions goal by 2070. Industries would have to ramp up capacity some 50 to 100 times more than current development plans. 

Activists and liberal officials are not discouraged. It only increases the urgency and leads them to recommend accelerated efforts to produce more useless carbon, regardless of the cost. Forcing companies to produce useless goods is a waste of resources and a quick way to economic suicide. Making governments pay for failure is throwing good taxpayer money after bad.

John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book "Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society--Where We've Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go." He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.

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