US supermajor Chevron has failed to meet its emission-reduction targets at its Gorgon liquefied natural gas project in Western Australia after a troubled start to the carbon capture and storage (CCS) facility.

Chevron confirmed on Monday that it was not going to meet its promised injection rates, with the project only capturing a fraction of the carbon dioxide expected during its first five years of operation.

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Under the terms of Gorgon’s project approval, Chevron is required to sequester at least 80% of the CO2 emissions released from the reservoirs that feed the Gorgon LNG plant over a five-year period.

While the first train at Gorgon came online in 2016, issues with the CCS facility did not see it start up until 2019 and continued issues have prevented the facility from operating reliably.

The facility is designed to capture 4 million tonnes per annum of CO2, however, Chevron confirmed Monday that only 5 million tonnes of CO2 had been injected since the August 2019 start-up.

'Shocking failure' for CCS

Renewable energy think tank Sustainable Energy Now believes Chevron's initial five-year report will find Gorgon’s CCS facility only managed to capture 30% of the CO2 it promised.

“It’s a shocking failure of one of the world’s largest engineering projects. But, given the lack of rigour and testing around the technology that was used, I cannot say it is unexpected,” chairperson of Sustainable Energy Now, WA, Ian Porter said.

“Chevron needs to face significant fines and be forced to offset the more than 6 million tonnes of unauthorised legacy carbon dioxide releases. Gorgon’s failure poses a major problem for any oil and gas company betting on CCS to meet net zero.”

Porter added that he believed oil and gas companies were being “overly optimistic” in their assumptions for the potential success of CCS in order to argue for the expansion of oil and gas extraction.

“CCS simply does not work at the scale and at the price needed to undo the damage that will be created by these projects,” he claimed.

“I sincerely hope CCS does work one day. Ultimately, we need it. But until that time, it is reckless and disingenuous for the industry to keep pretending that it can expand operations and reach net zero.”

Sharing lessons learned

Chevron Australia managing director Mark Hatfield admitted Gorgon had not met its CO2 injection requirements, adding the company was working with the West Australian regulator on making up the shortfall, with details on how the shortfall will be met to be released later this year.

“Like any pioneering endeavour, it takes time to optimise a new system to ensure it performs reliably over 40-plus years of operation. The road hasn’t always been smooth, but the challenges we’ve faced — and overcome — make it easier for those who aspire to reduce their emissions through CCS,” he added.

“We’re committed to sharing the lessons we’ve learned with state and federal governments, research institutes and other energy producers to assist the deployment of CCS in Australia.

“CCS is a proven technology which experts agree is critical to achieving a lower carbon future while ensuring access to affordable and reliable energy for billions around the world who rely on it.”

While it may have fallen short of its target, Chevron claims the 5 million tonnes captured since the facility’s 2019 start-up represents the largest volume of injection achieved over the same time period by any CCS system with comparable specifications.

"This significant milestone shows how we’re deploying technology, innovation and skills to deliver cleaner energy and reduce our carbon footprint,” Hatfield stated.

“The Gorgon carbon capture and storage system is the biggest CCS system designed to capture carbon emissions and is demonstrating Australia’s world-leading capability in the area.”

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Industry group backs CCS

Industry group the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) chose not to focus on the project missing its emission reduction requirements, instead highlighting the total Gorgon had been able to successfully sequester.

“Our industry is walking the walk when it comes to reducing emissions. Injecting 5 million tonnes of CO2e is equivalent to taking more than 1.6 million passenger vehicles off Australia’s roads for a year,” APPEA chief executive Andrew McConville stated.

“The Australian oil and gas industry is a world leader in the practical deployment of carbon capture and storage. In Australia, the oil and gas industry has been at the leading edge of researching and deploying CCS and greenhouse gas storage technologies.”

He claimed CCS would help further reduce the nation's emissions, while also providing a pathway to a large-scale clean hydrogen industry.

“CCS shows that technology can be used to further reduce Australia’s emissions and allows our industry to keep supplying electricity generation, and being used for products such as clothes, computers, phones, fertilisers and vital medical equipment such as heart valves,” McConville stated.

The Gorgon CCS project sees CO2 separated from the gas stream before processing and liquefaction on Barrow Island. Instead of being flared, it is injected into the Jurassic Dupuy Formation at a depth of about 2.5 kilometres.

The project includes nine CO2 injection wells at three drill centres, two pressure management drill centres, two reservoir surveillance wells, a seven-kilometre underground pipeline from the LNG plant site to the drill centres and three CO2 compressor modules.

Chevron has previously claimed the CO2 injection system will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the Gorgon project by about 40%, or more than 100 million tonnes over the life of the project.

Chevron operates the Gorgon project with a 47.3% interest and is partnered by ExxonMobil and Shell, each on 25%, Osaka Gas on 1.25%, Tokyo Gas on 1% and Jera on 0.417%.

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