Carbon Capture and Sequestration or Boondoggle?

Humanity continues to pump huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Many people think we have slowed the pace of this suicide, but sorry, no. The climate systems of the world continue their expected response, just a lot faster than anyone expected. The natural world that supports us continues to fail, but since it is 99% ignored in the reporting of the news media the importance of this story is 99% outside of the awareness of ordinary people. Even when some catastrophe breaks through, appropriate strong action to control greenhouse gas pollution has not been the result. We need to stop burning coal and oil, but that is not on the legislative table yet. One of the things that has helped to deflect any sense of urgency has been the constant stream of whiz-bang ideas claiming to be solutions– in fact much of the coverage of Global Warming has been reporting about these inventions based on press releases which were designed to raise capital. The effect has been to allow us to imagine that we will not have to make real changes to deal with this problem. In a benign example, changing light bulbs to energy efficient models like compact flourescents (CFLs) is a good thing, as are all energy efficiency measures. But scale counts. According to Architechture2030, if every household in the United States of America changed a light bulb, greenhouse pollution was not emitted because the electricity was not used… but the greenhouse gases from just two coal-fired power plants is enough to wipe out that improvement. So changing light bulbs is not bad, but it is inadequate unless we ban the burning of coal at the same time. Then there is another category of solutions– those that claim to take the greenhouse gases, especially CO2 and make them go away. Planting trees is the prime example, but climate change has already turned millions of acres of forests into carbon sources instead of sinks, so we have to rethink that one. Then here come the Oil Guys. They tell us that they will take CO2 that has been liquified and sent via pipeline to them and store it thousands of feet underground. They will make the problem go away. They argue that they know how to do this because they’ve developed this technique in what is called ?enhanced oil recovery,? or EOR. For many years they have taken liquid CO2 and pumped it underground under high pressure near an oil well because it makes the oil slipperier and makes it easier to force more oil to the surface. The pumps at the wellhead pull at the oil and the CO2 push it. They can get a lot more oil out of the ground that way. I was astonished to find that the oil guys have been mining CO2 for this purpose. Paying for it. Which reveals the motivation behind referring to EOR as CCS (carbon capture and sequestration). The plan now is that instead of buying CO2 they will get us to pay them to use it. There are lots of other questions, like what portion of the CO2 will come back up during the active life of the wells? (30-70% is the best guess.) How will they determine if the CO2 is going to stay down there after the pumping and injection wells are capped? (They say they will do ?whatever EPA requires.?) And guess what happens when they say they have stored more carbon than they get in the oil from the well? The “black gold” becomes Green Oil! I hope that this is a technique that works in a provable way. But clearly the oil guys are boosting the idea because it will make them richer, not because they are anti-Global Warming activists. It has boondoggle written all over it. So, what do we really need to do about Global Warming? In plain words, stop burning coal in less than 20 years. Focus on public transit, weatherizing buildings and building wind farms. Expressed more technically, bring the atmospheric concentration of CO2 down from our current level of ~388ppm to close to the pre-industrial level of ~280ppm. How? Bring net emissions of greenhouse gases to zero by mid-century and get the biggest part done quickly– about a quarter of this stuff will continue warming the planet for over a thousand years. In other word, stop being distracted by technical fixes that promise to make the problem go away easily. Stop re-creating the problem every day. Just don’t do it.

Reproduced from an email I received from John Atkeison (504) 208-9761 (Office) (504) 428-6996 (Cell) Director, Climate and Clean Energy Programs, Alliance for Affordable Energy 1001 South Broad Street, Ste. 202, New Orleans, LA 70125

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