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Monday, November 29, 2021

Exxon’s new Gulf of Mexico leases aren’t what they appear

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ExxonMobil’s spending spree throughout yesterday’s lease sale within the Gulf of Mexico was vital, specialists say, as a result of the corporate may use the realm for one thing apart from oil and fuel extraction. Consultants exterior the corporate speculate that ExxonMobil needs to make use of Gulf waters for a novel objective: sequestering captured carbon dioxide.

The Biden administration auctioned off huge tracts of the Gulf of Mexico to grease and fuel corporations yesterday in one of many largest federal lease sales in recent years. The sale drew sharp criticism from environmental teams, which say that permitting new oil and fuel growth is incompatible with America assembly its local weather targets. Nevertheless it’s attainable that Exxon — the largest bidder in yesterday’s sale — isn’t planning on extracting new fossil fuels in any respect. The corporate shocked analysts by bidding on nearly 100 leases in shallow waters near shore the place fossil gas reserves are fairly depleted. That probably implies that Exxon plans to repurpose {old} oil and fuel wells for carbon storage, or discover new locations within the space to pump captured CO2 underground, specialists inform The Verge.

“There’s simply not sufficient oil to make the bang for the buck price it for them,” says Brian Snyder, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State College.

William Turner, a lead analyst at power analysis agency Rystad Power, agreed, calling the lease areas “the equal of [Exxon] shopping for up a type of mother and pop operation.”

“This must be for one thing apart from oil and fuel exploration,” Turner says.

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ExxonMobil has but to verify or deny the hypothesis. In an e mail to The Verge, a spokesperson for the corporate mentioned Exxon would “consider the seismic and subsurface geology for future business potential.”

If specialists’ hunches are proper, this may probably mark the primary time that the federal government has leased federal waters for carbon sequestration.

Fossil gas corporations have offered carbon seize and sequestration (CCS) as a option to decrease the hurt they do to the planet. The technique entails utilizing new applied sciences to clean planet-heating CO2 out of smokestack emissions. The captured carbon dioxide then must be transported by way of pipelines to locations the place it may be saved underground.

The Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor might turn out to be a hotspot for carbon sequestration due to its proximity to lots of heavy business and present oil and fuel infrastructure. Consultants have urged captured CO2 could be pumped into {old} oil and fuel fields within the Gulf or injected into saline aquifers.

ExxonMobil has called CCS a part of its “ongoing efforts to scale back emissions.” This yr, the corporate introduced plans to show the Houston Ship Channel right into a form of hub for CCS. The channel connects Houston to the Gulf of Mexico and is lined with petrochemical vegetation and different heavy industries. The plan might entail pairing these vegetation with CO2 scrubbers, after which piping the captured carbon dioxide out to the Gulf. By 2040, the hub might seize as much as 100 million metric tons of CO2 a yr, Exxon says. Such an effort would require a joint funding from business and authorities, in line with ExxonMobil — to the tune of $100 billion.

Excessive prices like this have traditionally been a prohibiting issue with carbon seize initiatives; they’re what closed the one coal plant outfitted with CCS within the US. However some new funding might turn out to be accessible by means of the bipartisan infrastructure invoice that Joe Biden signed into regulation this week, which incorporates billions of {dollars} of investments in carbon capture and removal technologies and pipelines with a deal with so-called ‘hard-to-decarbonize’ industries like cement and fertilizer manufacturing.

Many individuals are, unsurprisingly, cautious of fossil gas corporations’ claims about CCS. Environmentalists and progressive lawmakers have referred to as CCS a “false resolution” for local weather change, saying that it might derail a transition to renewable power and hold the financial system depending on oil and fuel. Scientists agree that greenhouse fuel emissions have to essentially disappear by the middle of the century to be able to keep away from catastrophic local weather change, and that may solely be achieved by weaning economies off fossil fuels.

“This business has seen the Gulf as its personal private sewer for a very long time, so the concept that they might flip to the Gulf for this challenge is unsurprising,” says Carroll Muffett, president and CEO of the nonprofit Middle for Worldwide Environmental Regulation. “It’s additionally unacceptable as a result of the dangers of carbon seize and storage are vital,” he says. He’s nervous about how building and potential ruptures of recent CO2 pipelines may have an effect on Gulf Coast communities. Excessive concentrations of carbon dioxide, if it leaks out of pipelines or storage wells, may be an asphyxiant to folks and wildlife.

One other concern with CCS is that it has historically been utilized by the oil and fuel business for what’s referred to as “enhanced oil restoration” (EOR). Mainly, fossil gas corporations shoot the captured CO2 underground to push out hard-to-reach oil reserves.

“That might be my concern, that Exxon is definitely doing this not only for storage, however for EOR,” Snyder says. “My guess is that they’re truly doing somewhat of each.”

The Biden administration has already confronted lots of criticism for promoting federal water leases to grease and fuel corporations simply days after calling on all nations to slash greenhouse fuel emissions throughout a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow. The lease sale was set in movement by the Trump administration, and a Trump-appointed federal decide blocked an government order by Biden earlier this yr to droop new oil and fuel leases. Nonetheless, environmentalists argue that Biden might have accomplished extra to cease yesterday’s sale.

However whereas the Biden administration may not have needed to carry the lease sale, if ExxonMobil is actually planning to retailer captured CO2 within the Gulf, that might change the administration’s calculus.

“You would hypothesize with this, that perhaps this will get the eye of the administration to say ‘Okay, perhaps we have to rethink utterly shutting down new leasing,’” Turner says.

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