OPINION: The role that carbon capture and storage (CCS) should play in decarbonising economies has become a sensitive topic in the energy transition debate.
Critics see CCS as a means for oil companies to continue justifying making profits from fossil fuels, questioning the efficacy of storage methods.
Opposition usually extends to blue hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas but with carbon dioxide captured and stored.
There is arguably a growing consensus among oil industry leaders that the transition to a decarbonised global economy is for real and that their industry has a role to play.
Thankfully, climate change deniers have already lost their side of the argument.
On the other side of the spectrum, the idea of a headlong charge for clean energy is alluring, but it is also important to consider the challenges.
Early over-reliance on renewables and electrification could see demand for solar panels, batteries and wind turbines creating a new set of environmental challenges.
As marine biologist and author Helen Scales points out in a new book called The Brilliant Abyss, galloping growth in renewable energy is raising questions about supply of some rare metals that will be increasingly in demand as a consequence.
The sheer scale of the electrification task is also daunting, even in countries where existing infrastructure is approaching a natural renewal date.
This is not to argue against the energy transition, but in favour of a more geared approach, which maximises what is achievable.
While CCS and blue hydrogen are by no means perfect for decarbonisation, they are ready-made solutions based on existing technology and are being offered by a mature industry that already has decades of experience of CCS.
It is in the interests of these oil companies to apply their technical prowess to ensure that the next generation of storage facilities are virtually failsafe.
A raft of recent reports suggest that green hydrogen — produced without CO2 — will soon be cheaper than blue hydrogen.
This is exactly what the world needs, but most of these reports also envisage an important transitional role for blue hydrogen along the way.
It is precisely because of the urgency of the climate crisis that society at large should pursue pragmatic solutions.
In highly populous coal-consuming countries such as India and China, very significant short-term reductions in emissions can be achieved by switching to natural gas.
In more developed parts of the world, voters in rust-belt regions are wary of letting go of old industries, but can be convinced of the kind of de-carbonising regeneration that now comes wrapped with the promise of future jobs.
In the UK's Tees Valley, unprecedented election swings to the Conservative Party have been credited, in part, to increased optimism about employment prospects from a new de-carbonisation hub project featuring CCS, blue and green hydrogen, as well as a new fabrication site for wind turbine blades.
Governments seem to be making their own choices, as seen by the Dutch decision to authorise €2 billion ($2.4 billion) in subsidies for a Rotterdam CCS project called Porthos.
CCS projects can make an important contribution to de-carbonisation. But to make sure this is just a passing phase along the road to zero emissions, a carbon pricing mechanism that will help give the global economy that final push is sorely needed.
(This is an Upstream opinion article.)