Tory MPs Tout Carbon Capture at Chevron-Sponsored Event

Norfolk MP Jerome Mayhew says at Conservative party conference that only “mud hut zealots” would rule out ongoing exploration of North Sea oil and gas.
Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
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MANCHESTER – Conservative MPs gave resounding backing to the fossil fuel industry this week at a conference event paid for by U.S. oil giant Chevron. 

The panel “Can fossil fuel companies play a role in the energy transition?” was hosted on Tuesday in Manchester by Conservative think tank Bright Blue and Chevron.

Chevron is headquartered in California but its global operations are run from London. The major polluter has a 19 percent share in Clair, an offshore oil field west of Shetland that holds an estimated eight million barrels of oil.

The five panellists, who included a senior Chevron executive and MPs Peter Aldous and Jerome Mayhew, agreed the fossil fuel industry would “absolutely” play a critical role in the clean energy transition. 

Mayhew, MP for Broadland in Norfolk, argued in favour of continued North Sea oil and gas exploration and the need for carbon capture and storage to achieve decarbonisation.

“No one is saying – apart from the absolute mud hut zealots –  that we’re not going to have a long-term, to 2050 and beyond, a need for something [oil and gas], and that there is an ongoing role for exploration and recovery in the shrinking assets that are in the North Sea,” he told the packed room.

Mayhew said it was “absolutely right” that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had last week approved the Rosebank oil field, which environmental law firm ClientEarth has described as a “carbon bomb” that will make it even more difficult for the UK to meet its climate targets.

None of the speakers on the panel referred to the major role of fossil fuels in bringing about global heating. Together with industry, they account for 90 percent of all global CO2 emissions. 

DeSmog reported that a number of major polluters are present at the 2023 Labour and Conservative party conferences where BP, British Gas’ parent company Centrica, petrochemical giant Valero, and Drax – the UK’s largest CO2 emitter – are all hosting stands.

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the Conservatives were “aiding and abetting climate criminals” by accepting fossil fuel sponsorship. 

“Instead of stopping these crimes, the Tory Party is glad-handing them at Conference, greenlighting their climate-wrecking projects and handing over huge tax breaks to fund them,” she said.

‘World of Pain’

Oil and gas companies are heavily reliant on carbon capture and storage (CCS) to meet international climate targets, and the technology features in most international pathways for reaching net zero.

But the process – which involves capturing CO2 from industrial sites, and pumping the emissions underground – has so far failed to work at scale and proved largely unreliable in removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Meanwhile, around 80 percent of carbon captured so far has been used to extract more oil, in a process known as ‘enhanced oil recovery’.

Campaigners from Global Witness say the technology has been held up by the fossil fuel industry as a “golden bullet solution” to the climate crisis, but has been a “spectacular failure that has provided a cover for oil and gas companies to carry on polluting”.

Concerns about the environmental and economic concerns relating to CCS, raised by DeSmog at the event, were dismissed by Chevron executive Andrew Kulpecz. 

“Yeah, so in terms of CCS there’s nothing magical about capturing it, transporting it and injecting it, right? It’s playing very well, and the engineering skills for it exist today,” he said.

“There’s nothing technologically standing in the way of doing it,” he added, “it’s about having the right commercial framework for emitters, having large policy incentives to get it done, to make sure we get that wide scale application across the world.”

Kulpecz referenced the Gorgon Project on Barrow Island in Western Australia as a successful example of carbon capture. Chevron has a 47.3 percent stake in the gas project, alongside ExxonMobil and Shell.

However, Kulpecz omitted to mention that the project has so far been plagued with problems. A DeSmog analysis of 12 large-scale CCS projects, including Gorgon, found that what was intended as a flagship plant to store CO2 produced by drilling for offshore gas had been beset by technical issues that meant it captured less than a quarter of what was promised.

Both Conservative MPs acknowledged there were issues with the technology, but insisted that the UK needed to pursue it regardless, referencing the carbon capture utilisation storage (CCUS) plants planned for the industrial clusters in northern England.

“I do have concerns about it,” Mayew told DeSmog. “But if we can’t get CCUS to work, we’re in a whole world of pain.

“There’s going to be a huge level of technological focus on this… I have confidence that it will work in the end.”

Aldous, the MP for Waveney in Suffolk and chair of the all-party parliamentary group for British offshore oil and gas, conceded: “You’re right to be a doubter about it and we’ve had a number of false starts.” Referencing the success of carbon capture in Norway through Equinor, he added that the UK was “behind the Norwegians… now we’ve got to catch up.”

Samuel Hall, director of the Conservative Environment Network, said DeSmog’s comments were a “fair challenge”.

“I think carbon capture rates from some of these early projects haven’t been as good as we might have liked, or achieved the scale we might have liked,” he said.

“I suspect what we’ll see in the IEA’s [International Energy Agency] recent update, [is] that the amount of CCS that we should use will decline as new technologies come forward that offer better ways, cheaper ways to get to net zero.”

Alice Harrison, fossil fuels campaign lead at environmental and human rights non-profit Global Witness, said that carbon capture and storage could not be relied on to decarbonise global energy.

“Even optimistic estimates for rolling out CCS won’t be anywhere near enough to hit the world’s climate goals,” she said.

“Governments should instead focus more on proven solutions like renewable energy and making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. The best way to help the climate is to leave fossil fuels in the ground.”

Phoebe Cooke headshot - credit Laura King Photography
Phoebe joined DeSmog in 2020. She is currently co-deputy editor and was previously the organisation's Senior Reporter.

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