An investigative report found that the Shell Quest carbon capture plant in Canada has been emitting more greenhouse gas emissions than it captures since operations started in 2015. 

One of the few facilities in operation that uses carbon capture and storage technology to reduce emissions from hydrogen production has been found to emit more greenhouse gases than it captures, according to a new report

Owned by oil and gas giant Shell, the Quest Plant in Alberta Canada, is designed to capture carbon emissions from oil sands operations, which are then stored underground. But an investigation by watchdog group Global Witness revealed that while the facility helped capture 5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between 2015 and 2019, the plant also released 7.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions including methane, which has 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide, over the same period. 

The report says the plant has an annual carbon footprint of 1.2 million tonnes of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, and that only 48% of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions were captured, far less than the 90% carbon capture rate that most carbon capture technologies have touted. 

“We do think Shell is misleading the public in that sense and only giving us one side of the story,” said Dominic Eagleton, the author of the report. He added that the oil and gas industry has been pushing for governments to subsidise hydrogen production with carbon capture technology as ‘green’. The report findings however, called into question whether carbon capture and storage technologies are as green as oil companies claim, or simply another product of greenwashing. 

While many proponents of carbon capture technology believe that it plays a crucial role in the global energy transition, the report deals a “serious blow” to advocates of hydrogen production, given that Canada’s federal and Alberta governments spent at least US$654 million to pay for the billion-dollar Quest project.

“The single best way for companies like Shell to help tackle the climate crisis is to phase out all fossil fuel operations, rather than find ways to hide their climate-wrecking activity behind false solutions,” Eagleton said. 

In response to the report findings, Shell Canada spokesperson Stephen Doolan wrote in an email to Vice that “Quest was originally designed as a demonstration project to prove (carbon capture) technology and overall has met or exceeded our expectations,” but failed to address how carbon emissions surpassed the amount it captured. 

Aside from the Shell Quest facility, the world’s first direct air capture plant started operations in Iceland in September 2021, which aims to collect about 4,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. But currently, the company spends between USD$600 and $800 to remove a ton of carbon dioxide. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has also recently announced his intention to launch carbon capture technology and use it for rocket fuel in his private space programme.