Health and Equity Considerations for Carbon Capture and Storage

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a process through which carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through energy generation and industrial processes is captured and stored, rather than emitted into the atmosphere. CCS is receiving considerable attention by industry and policymakers. Yet its cost, technical feasibility, scalability, and importantly, its health and safety impacts, raise questions about its value as a mitigation strategya76 relative to other strategies such as electrification with renewable energy. Renewable energy avoids most of the health impacts associated with the production and combustion of fossil fuels (Case Study on Health Impacts of Pollution from Oil and Gas Production).

The 2022 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC AR6) on mitigation suggests, in modeled scenarios, that removal of carbon from the atmosphere through technologies such as CCS may be required to meet global climate targets.a77 However, the IPCC also reports that CCS may allow fossil fuels to be depended on for longer, is costly, and faces various technological, economic, and other barriers to implementation. By diverting resources away from healthier and more technically feasible carbon mitigation strategies, CCS may prolong and in some cases increase the emission of some health harming industrial and energy-related air pollutants.a78, a79

Despite these caveats, the U.S. has committed billions of dollars in funding and tax credits to incentivize industry to research and deploy CCS.a70, a80 From a health perspective, CCS warrants caution. This is particularly true in juxtaposition to the significant and near-term health benefits of climate mitigation strategies such as policies and investments to attain a rapid transition to clean, safe, reliable renewable energy.a81, a82

Pollution associated with fossil fuel industries for which CCS may be an option in the future disproportionately impacts frontline communities, which are often communities of color or areas of low wealth. Carbon leaks from CCS equipment, transport, and storage facilities may expose communities to further harmful emissions.

The health impacts of CCS remain largely unknown. Life cycle analyses of the health, equity, and climate impacts of CCS on workers and communities are needed to better understand the potential health harms. Safeguards for the protection of human health must additionally be integrated into any further deployment of CCS. This must include requiring implementation of the best available technologies to reduce direct emissions of harmful air pollutants from facilities that utilize CCS; preventing CO2 leaks from CCS infrastructure; prohibiting the use of CCS for further fossil fuel extraction such using captured CO2 for enhanced oil or gas recovery; and requiring fossil-fuel facilities that receive CCS subsidies to develop phase-out plans. Finally, there must be robust community engagement in decisions regarding the siting of CCS facilities, transportation, and storage infrastructure.