Oil and gas companies trumpet technology advances that they claim will soon allow the globe to explore for and burn fossil fuels without increasing global warming.

According to US climate envoy John Kerry, the time has come for the sector to demonstrate that it can bring the technology to scale, economically, and rapidly enough to avert global disaster.

And Kerry says he has “serious doubts” about it.

Kerry’s comments came during an interview with The Associated Press on one of the most important topics in the fight to slow global warming: the argument from oil and gas producers that they will soon have technology in place to extract the climate-damaging gases that make fossil fuels the primary cause of climate change, allowing companies to continue pumping crude and natural gas without concern.

Kerry stated that the ideal solution would be a rapid worldwide shift to renewable energy, but oil and gas states and corporations have the right to test their promise of technological rescue.

“If you can reduce emissions, capture them,” Kerry urged this week at the State Department’s climate team offices. “However, we don’t have that at-scale yet.” And we can’t simply sit here and pretend we’re going to have something we don’t have today. Because we might not be able to. It may not function.”

Globally, the argument is significant because oil and gas companies appeal to the hope of technology that will one day wash away most of the climate-wrecking carbon to deflect public and government pressure to shift away from fossil fuels and toward solar, wind, and other cleaner energy sources.

“What they’re banking on is that they’re going to be able to do the emissions capture,” Kerry said of oil and gas corporations. He went through the various stages of surgeries.

“If you can do those things,” he added, “you might be able to make it economically competitive,” adding, “I have some serious doubts about whether it will be price-competitive.”

Oil companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public ads portraying themselves as climate-friendly, particularly since 2015, when the United States and almost 200 other governments vowed to cut emissions to prevent the most dire scenarios of global warming. Ads in the industry and social media campaigns frequently imply that carbon-purging equipment is already in use, extracting climate-damaging emissions from oil and gas plants around the world.

“CO2 capture and transportation technologies have been operating safely across the globe and in the US for many years,” according to BP’s website.

“Technologies capture CO2 emissions at the source or directly from the air,” Saudi state oil firm Aramco said, adding that the carbon is either safely stored underground or converted into “useful products.”

In actuality, the technology to capture one main greenhouse-gas, methane, from oil and gas activities exists and is waiting for funding to be scaled up. However, the technology for capturing the most significant climate agent, carbon dioxide, remains restricted in scale, pricey, and frequently energy-intensive in and of itself.

While carbon-capturing technologies will play a part, the International Energy Agency, certain national governments throughout the world, and many climate scientists and advocates are determined that oil and gas production must be phased out.

“In practice, commercial-scale carbon capture projects have fallen far, far short of the claims,” said David Schlissel, a study group member at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“I just think it’s foolish to think we can keep pumping the stuff, CO2, methane, into the atmosphere and eventually capture it,” Schlissel said.

The American Petroleum Institute trade group declined to comment. In 2019, an industry study committee proposed for significant government support to capture a fourth of existing greenhouse gas emissions within 15 years.

  • API supports federal initiatives aimed at achieving the “at-scale phase” of commercial CCUS implementation.

The battle between rapid production cuts and technology rescue is expected to heat up this year.

This year’s annual United Nations-sponsored climate talks are being conducted in the United Arab Emirates to assist keep countries on pace to reach their pledges to reduce emissions.

Sultan al-Jaber, the CEO of the UAE’s state oil company, will moderate the discussions. The Gulf nation, like the United States and several other countries, is boosting drilling even as it advocates the climate cause.

Al-Jaber is pushing for a phase-out of “fossil fuel emissions” ahead of the November climate talks, leaving it unclear whether he means a technological increase or is open to some output cuts.

Countries agreed to reduce global coal use for the first time at the United Nations climate negotiations in Scotland in 2021. The following year, in Egypt, there was a big push for a commitment to phase out oil and gas, but it failed.

While not legally enforceable, any agreement reached at this year’s climate negotiations that the world should begin phasing out oil and gas production would be a first. It would put governments and industry on notice that they must comply.

Kerry opposed the concept of setting a time limit on the phase-out of oil and gas production. How quickly that can happen, he says, is partly determined by how quickly the world transitions to electric vehicles and renewable-fueled power networks.

Instead, he believes that this year’s climate talks would “quite possibly” result in an international agreement to phase out the use of “unabated” oil and natural gas, which means oil and gas whose carbon emissions are not collected. Those calling for immediate limits in oil and gas production may be disappointed.

Kerry stated that the date to keep an eye on is 2030. The world will need to have roughly halved climate-damaging emissions by then, according to the United Nations’ top climate panel, to avoid the more disastrous scenarios of global warming.

“We can’t let wishful thinking or wishful thinking govern common sense here,” Kerry added. “If we know we can get the job done with more renewables and current technology, we should do it.”


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