Exxon, you may or may not be surprised to hear, is by far the biggest owner of patents for carbon capture and storage. In fact it holds more than twice as many patents as its nearest rival, Shell, according to a report by independent UK think tank Chatham House. As the authors note, oil companies are active in CCS partly because their enhanced oil recovery knowledge – such as injecting CO2 into the earth to extract oil – dovetails neatly with the ‘storage’ part of CCS.
But Exxon also ranks very highly for the four patent categories related to ‘capture’, too: fifth for adsorbent methods, first for absorbent and solvent, and second for membranes. Big oil peers BP, Shell and ConocoPhilips also also in some of these categories, but appear noticeably fewer times.
David Wogan comments:
I think the pivot makes sense if you think of oil and gas companies as energy services companies: those that will make money pulling out a carbon-rich fuel or by storing carbon underground (assuming there is a market for capturing and storing carbon or policies require that this happens). It also makes sense if you recognize that energy companies employ armies of engineers and scientists who are experts at the processes and mechanics necessary to separate carbon and store materials underground.The "pivot" makes sense because the majors in Oil and Gas industry understand that they need a strategy that can reduce their reliance on carbon generating business model and will not make their main source of wealth - carbon fuel underground - obsolete. CCS is a model that can co-exist with their core business. It is a much better scenario than that in which a new energy source makes them irrelevant. The business decision is based on the science, no matter what they are sponsoring their mouthpiece to say.