Postcard from California: Carbon capture won’t solve climate crisis

Four miles from my house, a Silicon Valley company wants to drill an 8,000-foot-deep well to store millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas identified as the main cause of the climate crisis.

The well, planned at the site of a former Army ammunition plant in Riverbank, Calif., could be one of a network of CO2 storage wells California is hoping will help the state reach its ambitious climate goals.

The idea is to trap emissions from petrochemical refineries, power plants and other industrial and agricultural sources, super-chill them into liquids that are piped through earthquake-vulnerable terrain, and pumped deep underground to to keep them from heating up the atmosphere.

This Rube Goldberg-like scheme is called carbon capture and sequestration. The captured CO2 can also be used in other industrial processes. A related scheme, direct air capture, sounds even more like science fiction, making use of giant vacuums to suck existing CO2 out of the atmosphere.

At first carbon capture may sound like a smart idea: The company seeking a permit to drill in Riverbank is named Aemetis, which it says means “one prudent wisdom.” But the type of carbon capture Gov. Gavin Newsom’s climate policy counts on to reach “net-zero” CO2 emissions by 2045, is neither wise or prudent.