business climate change energy

Putting the fossil fuel industry into reverse

To much of the climate movement, the fossil fuel industry is the enemy. It is the carbon emissions from coal, oil and gas that are driving the breakdown of the climate. The companies that continue to extract and sell these resources are therefore a key focus point for activism. But what to do with the fossil fuel industry? Dismantle it? Drive it out of business? Or use it for good?

After all, the fossil fuel companies have unrivalled experience at delivering enormous projects. The engineering expertise in the industry, the capacity to raise and deploy gigantic budgets, the truly global scope of their supply chains – are these things that could be put to the service of the climate somehow?

We recently got an example of what that might look like, in the form of an announcement from the fertiliser company Yara. The Norwegian firm is planning to capture CO2 from its fertiliser and ammonia factory in the Netherlands. A company called Northern Lights will then transport the CO2 by ship and deliver it to a platform off the coast of Norway. The CO2 will be pumped 2,600 metres under the seabed and safely stored.

Beginning in 2025, Yara hopes to be able to bury 800,000 tonnes of CO2 this way – a significant figure. This is on top of the CO2 it already avoids or reuses locally.

Interestingly, Northern Lights is a joint venture owned by Shell, Equinor and Total. It’s a profit-making venture, and as they announce their first customer, it marks a notable point: the fossil fuel industry running backwards, and making money by sticking CO2 back in the ground.

It’s one project and it’s not yet in operation, so we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But as a marker of what’s possible, it’s well worth keeping an eye on this idea. It shows how oil and gas infrastructure and expertise can play a role in decarbonisation. The partners in Northern Lights certainly see this as a growth area for them. Where Yara are leading, others may follow – and we might begin to see a growing reverse pipeline for CO2.

4 comments

  1. When reading the first 2 paragraphs I got very interested in the thought, but it quickly vanished when it turned out to be about a fertiliser and oil company burying their waste under the sea in a thinly veiled attempt to promote their company as green and good.

    1. Which is better – a fertiliser company that captures and buries its CO2, or one that doesn’t?

      We might like to say ‘no fertiliser company’, but that’s not an option as far as I can tell. So we need to be careful not to let perfection be the enemy of good!

      1. There can be a danger of letting perfection be the enemy of good. Absolutely. But there’s also the danger of swapping a bad thing for another bad thing and calling it progress. And it’s sometimes not easy to see which is which.

        I’m not knowlegeable on sea beds, but I imagine there are many ways in which you can do more harm than good by burying things underneath. Because they are a fertilising company I feel they need to prove to me a bit more that they’re doing it in an environmentally conscious way. Especially because sea beds are hidden from our view. They Northern light companies have in the past not shyed away from causing huge destruction when out of view.
        Because they are a fertilising company they have alterior motives. Is it a mere PR thing? Anyway, I’d be interested in a bit more nuanced view on this project. I feel you very often highlight pros and cons in an insightful manner. So this post stood out to me as lacking in nuance.
        Ps. I’d choose the option ‘no fertiliser company’ any time.

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