Shell recently announced that it will start construction on a $1.36 billion carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in the Canadian oil sands. Located in Alberta’s Athabasca Oil Sands Project, almost 500 miles north of Calgary, the Quest Project is a joint private-partnership between Shell and the governments of Canada and Alberta with the public sector picking up much of the tab.
According to Shell, the CCS project will reduce the total emissions from this section of the oil sands by 35 percent to the tune of one million metric tons of carbon annually while ensuring that energy from northern Alberta will continue to provide a safe and reliable source of energy. Shell touts the CCS initiative in a press release as reaching the equivalent of taking 175,000 American and Canadian cars off of the road each year.
For both Alberta’s and Canada’s federal government, CCS serves two purposes: it’s an important strategy for reducing the country’s carbon emissions while deflecting the controversial development of the world’s third largest petroleum reserves. And for Shell, the commitment to the project demonstrates that the company is keen on an “all of the above” energy strategy. Peter Voser, CEO of of Royal Dutch Shell, insisted that development of Alberta’s oil sands are key to economic development in and beyond Canada and that CCS can help mitigate any environmental impact:
“Lower CO2 energy sources will grow, but even by 2050 at least 65 per cent of our energy will still come from fossil fuels. So CCS will be important to manage climate impacts.”
Reaction to the project has been all over the map, of course, with one Guardian reader nothing that the deal was “like locking the stable door after you’ve driven the horse out.” Greenpeace, which has long dismissed CCS as a “false hope,” described the Athabasca project as a massive taxpayer giveaway for Shell.
As is the case with “clean coal,” CCS is not entirely carbon-free, and the promise to pump carbon deep beneath’s the earth surface is a technology that is still untested and fraught with risks. Nevertheless CCS projects in North America and Europe keep charging ahead. Time will tell whether this much hyped promise will truly cancel out emissions from the global increase in the use of fossil fuels or end up as a largely taxpayer-funded money pit.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo of trailings pond in the Athabasca Oil Sands courtesy of Shell.