Controversy surrounds launch of CalCapture project amid community concerns

March 27, 2024 /

Despite concerns from residents and community-based organizations, the California Resources Corporation (CRC) will be launching CalCapture, the carbon capture and storage (CCS) project that will capture carbon dioxide from the Elk Hills Power plant and inject it deep underground for permanent sequestration in depleted underground reservoirs.

CRC claimed that, through the CalCapture project, emissions from the Elk Hills Power Plant will be significantly reduced and further support California’s climate goals and the Paris Climate Accord. CalCapture plans to target, capture, and permanently store 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. 

The Elk Hills Power Plant is located between Taft and Buttonwillow’s communities, drawing concerns about how those communities may be affected.

“This is gonna be a first-of-its-kind project so we don’t really know what the dangers are on a full scale,” said Brianda Castro, a Climate and Environmental Justice Coordinator with the Central California Asthma Collaborative (CCAC). “But we know that putting carbon in the ground, especially with oil wells that may be leaking, is very dangerous because there’s no guarantee that they will stay in the ground.”

Castro explained CCAC’s Summation project — a research project where scientists measure emissions from oil wells in Kern County. According to Castro, the Summation project shows that there are tons of leaking wells, especially in the CRC oil fields in Elk Hills. 

“So that’s the biggest concern for the geographic location. They’re saying that the rocks are the perfect formation to be able to constrain the carbon, but because there’s leaking wells, there’s a huge risk of leaks,” Castro commented. 

She also pointed out the concern for an explosion, much like the one that happened in February 2020 in Satartia, Mississippi. Castro noted that a carbon dioxide explosion would take away the ability of car engines to run, and pointed out that this is why CRC is looking to further fund the fire department.

“So if there is a leak or if there’s an explosion, they will be equipped, right? But that’s just like putting a small bandaid on a huge wound at that point,” Castro said. 

A fact sheet created by CRC named Elk Hills as an “optimal site for the safe and secure sequestration of CO2” and “one of the premier…sequestration sites in the U.S,” but Castro argued that, due to all the leaking wells in Kern County and the Central Valley, there is no ideal location for a project of this nature anywhere in the Central Valley. 

The International Energy Agency calls carbon capture “one of the only technology solutions that can significantly reduce emissions,” but although there will be a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, other emissions will increase from the project. 

One of the points made by CRC during the workshops they held in regard to the project was that extra emissions would only happen during the construction of the site, but Castro was quick to point out that this isn’t true.

“It will happen throughout the whole life of the project and they did acknowledge this during the workshop that this will be something that will be happening,” Castro said. “And their solution to this is just to have CRC pay more money to incentivize grants to go directly to the communities that are within the vicinity.”

This grant money would go towards programs to rescue emissions similar to AB 617, which already exists in various Kern County communities. 

“This will just add another layer of burden to the community because as we know, the AB 617 process is a very long process to even think about the programs, and then to execute them, find contractors to facilitate those programs. So it’s a very lengthy process,” Castro stated. 

When asked about how this project will benefit the community of Kern County and, more specifically, the communities surrounding Elk Hills, CRC responded that they’re in a media quiet period and would be unable to provide a response. 

Gustavo Aguirre Jr., the Climate and Environmental Justice Associate Director with CCAC, however, pointed out there are no real benefits to the surrounding communities. 

“The benefits that we’re seeing to the community are very minimal. The jobs aren’t going to come during the construction phase of those permits. There is no job other than the people inspecting it,” Aguirre said. “What needs to happen is companies that are doing these, they would come up with real, like, community benefits agreements where they actually benefit the community, right? Because they’re choking them out,  whether it’s with, you know, asphyxiation of carbon or with the added pollutants that they’re not going to capture.”

In regards to potential benefits from the project, Castro added: “I truly cannot say that there are any benefits to this, because even with the job sector, they’re only going to be building five extra wells that will be built. So there’s going to be, like, five jobs.”

Aguirre also amplified the fact that carbon-capturing is a false climate solution that doesn’t benefit anyone besides the international corporations that own these technologies. 

“Because there’s a bunch of money allotted to this, everyone now wants to be part of this new economic circle, but it’s sacrificing more more,” Aguirre pointed out. 

Many residents voiced their concerns about a project of this nature, worrying about the lack of science behind it.

“We don’t have the science, but we definitely have the life experience and the health effects to show that this is dangerous and we don’t need any more pollutants to be emitted to the air,” Castro stated.

Aguirre went on to add that the science behind the oil and gas industry was done by research labs at Stanford and Berkeley that were paid for by oil and gas.

“So it’s like a very pseudo-science approach to carbon capture, with the end result — can this make us money? Yes or no. That’s the research question; can this make us money?” Aguirre pointed out. 

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Victoria Rodgers

Victoria Rodgers is an editor and reporter for Kern Sol News. Born in Bakersfield, CA, she received her Bachelor of Arts in English from Rockford University in Illinois. She can be reached at