energy sustainability

Shell’s carbon emissions vs their carbon capture

The other week I mentioned the rash of fossil fuel company billboards on the streets at the moment. Here’s another. Outside Luton station, we are currently blessed with this billboard:


It’s a visually striking ad, for sure. Nice juxtaposition of round and triangular shapes, strong red colours. I like the way they’ve made the bubble touching the water, giving it a bit more weight. And you can’t really go wrong with the Forth Bridge for a sense of scale. I was standing on that exact spot just a few weeks ago, watching the trains pass along the bridge with a transfixed three-year-old.

It’s too bad the message itself is nonsense.

As one of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies, Shell is responsible for vast quantities of CO2 that make this big bubble look like a pinhead.

The red globe in the picture represents the amount of CO2 Shell’s proposed Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage project would capture every day. The project is expected to store a million tonnes a year for ten years, so presumably that bubble represents about 2,700 tonnes of CO2.

Now, 10 million tonnes of CO2 captured, even over a decade, sounds pretty impressive. To put it in context though, a 2013 study calculated that Shell is responsible for 478 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every single year. In the course of the company’s history, its activities and products have released an estimated 30,751 Mt CO2e to the atmosphere. That’s enough to put them at number six in the list of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change.

By my back of the envelope calculation, you could legitimately re-caption Shell’s billboard thus:


To boast about capturing this much CO2 a day is like chopping down a forest and then boasting that you’ve planted an acorn.

To be fair to them, Shell are more enlightened than many other oil companies. I support their Peterhead CCS experiment. But the ultimate goal of this billboard outside my station is to sell more oil. And that is fundamentally incompatible with real action on climate change.


  1. This add reminds me of a Louis Vuitton advertisement that showed a guy in nature and in simplicity with his little luxury bag – it made we wild as it was such an exploitation of simplicity for something that is totally anti-simplicity…

    A great post because I believe in saying well done to anything that is done for good but also calling out BS when you see it!

    1. Shell insist that the consumers are responsible for the CO2 emissions, not them. That’s the same argument that tobacco companies made when people accused them of being responsible for lung cancer, and we know which way the courts went on that one.

      Shell have got some interesting projects to try and reduce their own operating emissions, but ultimately their product is destabilising the climate and the buck stops with them.

      1. Tobacco is addictive. Oil isn’t.

        This shows our differences in view. The economy comes from the consumer. They are not victims but the driver.

        1. The responsibility is entirely shared. You can’t split them apart.

          And I’d argue that while you can’t be addicted to oil specifically, we do have a critical dependence on it through our car culture. It’s in the interests of Shell to keep us hooked, even though they know that their product is destabilising the climate – hence the reassuring billboards implying that they’ve got a solution to climate change and we don’t need to stop buying their petrol.

    2. I too have always thought that consumers should consider their proxy for fossil fuel extraction. On the other hand an “energy company” isn’t really supposed to be endangering us or civilization to deliver a product.

  2. I would like to defend the efforts by Shell and others developing CCS.
    “A journey of several thousand kilometres begins with a single step”. It is an humble beginning, yes, but an all-in effort by industry to implement CCS where it makes most sense can achieve huge GHG emissions reductions in 15-25 years time, which is about how long it will take to scale up PV and wind from nothing to something signficant. So, even though PV and wind are NOW making spectacular progress (after 10-20 years stuck in the starting blocks), they will STILL need another 15-25 years to make a big dent in GHG emissions. My conclusion: full speed ahead on PV, wind, geothermal, biomass, efficiency AND CCS.

    1. I agree actually, and good for them for investing in CCS when others are dawdling. But it doesn’t get round the fact that their basic product is driving climate change, and the billboards is greenwash.

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