Carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS ― which involves the physical capturing of carbon emissions and permanent storage of those emissions deep underground ― is considered by many policy observers to be a critical component to achieving climate ambitions around the world.

California is situated as a potential CCS hub, with multiple projects announced within the state, and a regulatory landscape that has historically prioritized climate issues. Yet expansion of CCS faces several challenges, including both legal barriers and the need to build public trust through community engagement and responsible deployment.

This article briefly analyzes the current state of play for CCS projects in California, including several emerging issues.

The Potential Role of Carbon Capture in Achieving Climate Goals

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has projected that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global temperature rise must be capped at 1.5 degrees Celsius, a goal incorporated into the Paris Agreement.1

According to the IPCC, achieving the 1.5-degree goal will require a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net-zero global emissions by 2050.2 This is a substantial task — especially considering that global GHG emissions are still currently increasing.3

In addition, the U.S., through executive action, has set ambitious targets of 50%-52% emissions reductions below 2005 levels by 2030, and net-zero by 2050. California also has set ambitious climate goals, including a legislative mandate of a 40% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2030,[4] and an executive goal of net-zero by 2045.5

Whether on the state, national or global scale, many expert projections on the pathway to net-zero rely on the use of CCS. For example, in the IPCC's report, 88 out of 90 scenarios relied on carbon removal technologies such as CCS, while the International Energy Agency projects that CCS will need to capture 7.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide — or nearly 21% of current total global emissions — by 2050 to reach net-zero.6

Domestically, the U.S. long-term strategy for achieving net-zero embraces CCS as a key decarbonization strategy for both the electricity generation and industrial sectors, which combined account for 49% of total U.S. emissions.7 A 2020 report from Stanford University and the Energy Futures Initiative stated that CCS is critical to achieving California's decarbonization goals, and capable of "pav[ing] the way for the state's transition to a net-zero emissions economy."8

However, the IPCC warns that, despite the "growing scientific consensus that … CCS technologies and permanent sequestration are likely needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change,"9 CCS deployment remains "far below those in modelled pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C or 2°C."10

California is emerging as a potential CCS hub to bridge that gap, with suitable geologic features and an inflow of investment on early projects. However, further development of California's regulatory framework for CCS may be necessary to fully harness the state's CCS potential.

Notwithstanding the positive view by many regarding CCS, public trust will be essential to integrating CCS into California's climate programs. The various applications of CCS technology enjoy differing levels of public support, and legislators and regulators in California are currently grappling with how to prioritize CCS uses with the greatest climate benefits.

For example, there is greater agreement regarding the benefits of CCS on hard-todecarbonize sectors, such as heavy industry — especially when the CCS equipment is powered by zero- or low-carbon fuels. Environmental justice advocates also raise important considerations regarding where CCS projects may be located in relation to overburdened communities, and whether CCS would allow operations that emit other pollutants to continue.

Current State of Play for CCS Projects in California

California is positioned to be an early hub in the build-out of CCS projects. Potential geologic sequestration capacity in the state is estimated to be 35-425 gigatons of CO2 equivalent — enough to store the entirety of California's current emissions for up to 1,000 years.11

This includes deep sedimentary rock formations in the Central Valley, which the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, describes as "world-class CO2 storage sites that would meet the highest standards."12

Over a quarter of Class VI injection permits currently pending before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are located in California: the San Joaquin Renewables project13 and three permits for the Carbon TerraVault Elk Hills Field project,14 both in Kern County.15 At least three additional projects have been announced but are yet to apply for a Class VI permit: the Calpine Delta Energy Center project16 in Pittsburg, the Redding Cement plant17 in Shasta, and the Aemetis project18 in Ceres.19

On the regulatory side, California has historically been a first mover with regard to climaterelated legislation, including the Global Warming Solutions Act, or A.B. 32, passed in 2006, under which many of California's emissions-reduction mechanisms are housed.20

Recently, CARB published a pathway to achieve carbon neutrality in California by 2045.21 This plan relies on CCS as a necessary tool to mitigate climate change, and includes sectorspecific targets including deployment of CCS on the majority of petroleum refining operations by 2030, and all stone, clay, glass and cement facilities by 2045.22 The plan also views CCS as a shorter-term solution for the power sector and hydrogen production, until sufficient renewable power is available.23

Despite this, CCS has so far only been partially implemented into California's regulatory framework for addressing climate change. Two programs that do address CCS in certain respects are the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard CCS Protocol, and the Carbon Sequestration and Climate Resiliency Project Registry.

Outside of these CCS-focused mechanisms, a storage operator will also likely need to engage with a variety of California regulatory agencies relating to more generalized state environmental protections.


1. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, IPCC (Oct. 2018),; Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Art. 2.1(a) (Dec. 12, 2015).

2. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, supra n. 3.

3. Global CO2 emissions rebounded to their highest level in history in 2021, International Energy Agency (March 8, 2022),

4. Cal. Health & Safety Code § 38566

5. Cal. Exec. Order B-55-18, To Achieve Carbon Neutrality (Sept. 10, 2018).

6. Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, supra n. 3; Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage, International Energy Agency (Sept. 2020),; Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, International Energy Agency (May 2021),

7. The Long Term Strategy of the United States: Pathways to Net-Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 2050, U.S. Dept. of State and Exec. Office of the President (Nov. 2021),; Greenhouse Gas Inventory Data Explorer, EPA (data for 2020),

8. An Action Plan for Carbon Capture and Storage in California: Opportunities, Challenges, and Solutions, Energy Futures Initiative and Stanford University (Oct. 2020), at 1 82efd1f0/1603384344275/EFI-Stanford-CA-CCS-FULL-10.22.20.pdf.

9. 87 Fed. Reg. 8,809, Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Sequestration Guidance, Council on Environmental Quality (Feb. 16, 2022).

10. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change, IPCC (April 2022), at SPM-37.

11. Achieving Carbon Neutrality in California, Energy and Environmental Economics developed for the California Air Resources Board (Oct. 2020) at 65,; 2000-2019 GHG Inventory (2021 Edition), California Air Resources Board (April 2021),

12. Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update, California Air Resources Board (May 10, 2022) at 67,



15. As of July 7, 2022. See



18.,at%20each%20of%20our%20fa cilities.

19. An additional Class VI permit application from Mendota Carbon Negative Energy Project in Fresno was recently withdrawn in April 2022. Project backers have stated that they are continuing to "gather and evaluate project information" after the withdrawal. Chevron, Schlumberger withdraw request for California carbon-capture permit, Reuters (May 18, 2022),

20. Cal. Health & Safety Code Division 25.5.

21.  Draft 2022 Scoping Plan Update, California Air Resources Board (May 10, 2022) at 66,

22. Id. at 59-66.

23. Id. at 68.

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