Two myths the fossil fuel industry likes to propagate

Financial Times, 25 October 2015 (paragraph in bold not published):

Expressions of concern by the oil and gas industry about global warming should not be mistaken for any change in policy, let alone a call for effective remedial measures (Energy chiefs in vow on climate change Oct 17).  Instead the communique  repeats two of the myths that the fossil fuel industry like to propagate.

Most prominent is the belief that you can solve climate change by substituting one fossil fuel with another. This approach was tried by car manufacturers who promoted diesel instead of petrol as a means of reducing carbon emissions, but failed to admit  that the technology needed to control other pollutants from diesel engines would inevitably compromise fuel efficiency. The same applies to the replacement of coal with shale gas. It seems attractive until you consider that fugitive emissions of methane tend to cancel out any benefit to the climate.

The second myth is that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is going to solve the problem of climate change, a scenario that the World Coal Association is also keen to promote (Letters Oct 21) The number of CCS projects under development world-wide has fallen over the past 5 years, partly because the price of carbon in Europe has fallen to less than 10 euros per tonne of CO2, and partly because CCS adds 50-100% to the price of an unabated plant, as well as reducing fuel efficiency. Noone is going to invest in carbon capture until a carbon tax is introduced that reflects the true cost of burning fossil fuels. According to the IMF that cost exceeds  5 trillion dollars annually which provides a price of $166 per tonne of CO2, or around $600 per tonne of carbon.

In any event the industry have been advocating gas instead of coal for 30 years, so if this represents a bridge to the promised land of renewable energy, then it is leading us in the wrong direction.

In 1989 I wrote an editorial for the Lancet ” Health in the Greenhouse” that identified most of the measures that were needed  to solve climate change. Had society in general and the the fossil fuel industry in particular started planning ahead at that stage, we would not now be faced with the existential crisis of having to abandon fossil fuels before the alternative technologies are fully developed.  Chief Executives of oil, gas and coal companies are largely responsible for that situation.

Dr Robin Russell-Jones
Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire