Oil company Occidental lays groundwork for capturing millions of tons of CO2. It's not enough.



A sprawling 106,000-acre site on one of the first ranches in the U.S. could become a huge storage site for the greenhouse gases that are currently warming the planet -- with enough space to store billions of tons of carbon dioxide.


Occidental Petroleum, America's fifth largest oil and gas company, has leased the acreage from the family-owned Texas ranching company, King Ranch, to develop carbon capture and storage facilities on the property through its 1PointFive subsidiary.


Occidental's direct air capture, sequestration, and utilization subsidiary works alongside technology developer to make these projects possible.


The land has a footprint that could contain 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases -- or roughly 100 years worth of the gases that Occidental hopes to capture from 30 direct air capture (DAC) plants it wants to build on the site.

“We are excited to work with King Ranch on what will be the largest DAC deployment project in the world, as we continue our plans to provide affordable and practical industrial-scale decarbonization solutions,” said Vicki Hollub, President and chief executive officer at Occidental, in a statement. “We believe large-scale DAC, which is an innovative engineered CO2 removal solution, will play an important role in helping organizations and nations reduce their net CO2 emissions and provide the scale necessary to make a difference in addressing climate change globally.”


While the numbers from the plant are Texas-sized (and among the world's largest), they're dwarfed by the size of the problem that oil companies like Occidental have helped create.


Scientists estimate that it would require the removal of 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year through either emissions reduction or negative emissions technologies (like DAC) by 2050 to avoid a climate disaster.


Studies from the National Academies of Sciences estimate that these negative emissions technologies could address roughly 30% of the needed reductions.


So the amounts of carbon dioxide that could be captured at Occidental's Texas plant are a small fraction of what's needed to address the climate problem -- and that's only if the world stops burning more fossil fuels for energy, transportation and industry.


And while Occidental is moving forward quickly with its direct air capture work, the company is also using carbon dioxide from its direct air capture technologies to pump more oil. Which adds to the problem.


Occidental is doing the work to capture CO2 for enhanced-oil-recovery at a facility in Ector County, Texas -- slated to come online in 2024. That plant, slated to also capture 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually is orders of magnitude larger than the existing capture capacity in the world (roughly 0.01 million metric tons).


The dichotomy highlights the tensions between different kinds of direct air capture and negative emissions technologies.

As Jason Hochman, the co-founder and director of the Direct Air Capture Coalition wrote in an email to FootPrint Coalition last week, the situation isn't black-and-white.


"It's a bit tricky to navigate because it just so happens that fossil fuel companies have the exact set of resources, expertise, infrastructure, and general capabilities to do large scale carbon removal/carbon management yet they can't use the promise/potential of future CDR to forestall or delay decarbonization strategies," Hochman wrote. "It's really kind of a matter of whether any of those legacy oil and gas companies are pursuing CDR in good faith or not, and based on their history, it's not unreasonable to be skeptical of that."

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