Major Polluters In ‘Ludicrous’ Push For Carbon Capture at Party Conferences

The technology could provide cover for fossil fuel companies to explore more oil and gas drilling, campaigners say.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer. Credit: DeSmog via UK Parliament (CC BY 3.0)

A trade group for contested carbon capture with close ties to major oil and gas companies is sponsoring over a dozen events at the Conservative and Labour conferences over the next fortnight. 

Fossil fuel companies are using the technology as “a fig leaf” to pursue oil and gas drilling, campaigners have warned, as industry lobbyists across the energy sector seek to win over policymakers.

The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), a trade body promoting carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), is due to host 15 events across the Conservative and Labour gatherings, which begin on Sunday in Manchester.

The London-based CCSA describes itself as the “lead” European organisation for CCUS, promoting the “rapid” and “commercial” deployment of the technology. The process involves capturing CO2 emissions from industrial production and storing it underground. Some technologies allow the captured CO2 to be re-used by converting it into plastics, concrete or biofuel. 

The group says that its members are “companies across the CCUS industry” including “support services in the energy sector” such as law, banking and consultancy.  

Nearly a fifth of the CCSA’s 100 members are oil and gas companies, including BP, Exxon, Shell and Equinor. Fossil fuels are the largest contributor to climate change, producing 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

The CCSA board is also dominated by key figures at oil and gas companies, including BP, Equinor, TotalEnergies and Shell. 

Lorne Stockman, research co-director at the campaign group Oil Change International, told DeSmog: “It’s very clear what carbon capture serves and who it’s a solution for, and that’s the fossil fuel industry. 

“This isn’t about the best way of addressing the climate crisis, it’s about keeping the industry in business.”

He said the companies were trying to hedge their bets by winning over both the Conservatives and Labour, in the hope of continued government funding to support the high infrastructure costs.

“They pay both parties as much as they can,” said Stockman. “They’ve got the resources, they’ve got the money, they’ve got the influence, and of course they’re showing up to ensure that the fossil fuel industry continues to get public support even while we try to confront the climate emergency.”

Carbon capture and storage, and the extension of the technology, CCUS, has been touted by major polluters as a way to cut their production emissions to meet climate targets. 

But the role of carbon capture in the energy transition is hotly contested. Climate scientists point to the failure of CCS to remove significant amounts of CO2 emissions while campaigners warn of the high costs compared to renewable energy. The vast majority of companies use the captured CO2 to extract more oil through a process called “enhanced oil recovery”.

A DeSmog analysis published this week found the majority of large-scale global CCS projects have spectacularly failed to deliver what they promised, overran budgets and targets, and resulted in a net increase in emissions.

A CCSA spokesperson told DeSmog: “We are proud to bring a wide variety of our members to party conferences this year to engage with politicians, delegates and the media on the vital role carbon capture and storage technology will play in the net zero transition. 

“This technology will ensure industry can continue to support jobs making critical products such as steel and cement in the UK, rather than importing them from abroad, as well as creating 70,000 new jobs in green industries. 

“Carbon capture technology will be an important part of the solution, alongside reducing energy use and rolling out renewable electricity as we all work together to reach net zero.”

Fossil Fuel Presence

The UK government has committed £20 billion of investment for carbon capture and storage over the next 20 years, and aims to capture and store 20-30 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030 and over 50 million by 2035. 

The “CCUS Investor Roadmap”, updated this year, sets out plans to deliver four CCUS “low-carbon” industrial clusters by 2030, and capture and store nine million tonnes of CO2 from industrial CCS by 2035.

Despite well-documented concerns over carbon capture, industry executives will look to increase the government’s commitments further and showcase its “key role in decarbonising industry”, when they join the Conservatives in Manchester next week, and Labour in Liverpool later in the month. 

Experts and MPs – yet to be named – have been invited to the group’s ticketed drinks receptions, while a number of talks are dedicated to promoting the technology as a crucial part of the UK’s “green industrial revolution”.

“Our politics are shot through with oil and gas lobbyists, it’s just at party conferences they come into the light a little bit more,” Tessa Khan, executive director of fossil fuel campaign group Uplift, told DeSmog.

“This is a ludicrous amount of special pleading for a technology, carbon capture and storage, that, on the current trajectory, will play a marginal role in reducing industrial emissions and at worst is a fig leaf for more oil and gas drilling.”

The CCSA reception in Liverpool at the Labour Party conference will feature food, drinks and speeches from industry leaders, with members of the shadow cabinet expected to attend.

Doug Parr, chief scientist and policy director at Greenpeace, told DeSmog that CCS “has been used and continues to be used as a cover for fossil fuel exploitation”. 

“If the CCS crew are out and about at party conferences, one has to have a suspicion, given the number of fossil fuel industries that continue to be involved with them, that that’s what’s being attempted in the UK”, he said. 

Board Members and Political Influence

Individuals from the fossil fuel industries are well represented on the CCSA board, as well as the group’s membership. 

Oil and gas companies TotalEnergies, Wintershall Dea, Uniper, Phillips 66 UK, Neptune Energy and Eni are also members of the CCSA, alongside Drax, the UK’s single largest emitter of CO2. Drax is seeking an estimated £31.7 billion in subsidies for its proposed biomass energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) plant, which is being trialled in its CCUS “incubation area” in North Yorkshire.

The CCSA board is also dominated by career oil and gas executives who have spent decades working in the industry.

Chair of the CCSA, Jonathan Briggs, is director of a CCS project run by Vitol, a Dutch multinational energy and commodity company which trades oil, gas and coal. Briggs works on the “Humber Zero” project to decarbonise VPI Power’s Combined Cycle Gas Turbine in Immingham, North Lincolnshire.

The board includes Rowaa Ahmar, group head of public affairs, policy and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) at biomass company Drax, the UK’s largest single emitter of CO2. 

Other board members include Graeme Davies, a project director at Harbour Energy; Shirley Oliveira, vice president for hydrogen and CCUS advisory services at BP; Dan Sadler, UK vice president for low carbon solutions at Equinor; Gaël Le Parc, UK CCS director for TotalEnergies; and Steve Schofield, head of climate and carbon policy and advocacy at the corporate relations department of Shell. 

The CCSA also has political connections. CCSA president, Baroness Liddell, was a Labour minister under former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Joe Butler-Trewin, CCSA’s Public Affairs and Communications Officer in London, worked on Keir Starmer’s 2020 campaign for the Labour leadership. 

The Conservative and Labour parties did not respond when contacted for comment. 

Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.
Rachel is an investigative researcher and reporter based in Brussels. Her work has been covered by outlets including The Guardian, Vice News, The Financial Times and The Hill.

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