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CO2 Going To The Birds

Governor Schweitzer wants to partner with Saskatchewan and private energy companies to find funding for a carbon sequestration demonstration. I think you already know the stance of the Bugle on sequestration as outlined in this article from  last month. There are many good reasons to study the feasibility of sequestering carbon dioxide and there are a lot of drawbacks. This project would capture a relatively small amount of CO2 (1,000 tons), pipe it 50 miles from the SaskPower, Poplar River generating station to the Bowdoin Dome in northeatern Montana. The deadly gas would be pressurized, liquefied and injected about 6,000 feet into the earth beneath Montana.

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Bowdoin National Wildlife Refuge

The Bowdoin Dome is a geologic formation that has been well studied due to it’s potential for oil and gas production. It has been mentioned as one of the three best places to sequester carbon in Montana. It is also home to the nearby Bowdoin National Wildlife refuge. After the carbon is injected into the pore spaces of the dome it would sit there until “scientists are satisfied that the CO2 will stay in place and not pollute groundwater or migrate to the surface.” All this sounds like could be a good idea, but I can’t help but see that this project has the potential to become more a test of the government spin machine than an actual test of the science and practicality of sequestration. The plan is to leave the gas in place for “several years” and then pump it back out for use in enhanced oil recovery in the Bakken oil field in eastern Montana.

Governor Schweitzer wants us to “Think of a big tank down there.” But, is a 1,000 tons for a “few years” really enough to make this a true test? And on top of that, compound the threat by pumping the dangerous gas back out and reusing it? As Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena points out, “the potential danger from doing it poorly could have a significant impact not only on public health and the environment, but also on property rights and water quality.”

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Bowdoin Refuge

SB498, the sequestration regulation bill from this session of the legislature, currently sits in the House FRET committee awaiting a hearing. The Bugle’s take on the bill is also outlined in the above article. There are a lot of unanswered questions about capturing carbon dioxide. It would be a good thing if this demonstration project could answer some of the scientific questions. No real test of the process has ever been done. This would only be one of many that would be needed to determine if sequestration is possible and scalable to many millions of tons. My fear is that if the project goes forward, the pro-coal folks would use the results to promote burning more coal and spewing forth many millions of tons of other bad stuff into our fragile atmosphere. Even in the face of inconclusive or even negative results, my concern would be that the coal lobby would use the project to say that the process has been tested and is now feasible.

Funding for the $250 million project would come partly from the Province, partly from the power company and the Governor wants to use $100 million from the federal stimulus money. I never thought I would come to the point of seeing $100 million as chump change, but with the numbers we see thrown around every day and given the fact that we may spend $80 million stimulus dollars on a new courthouse in Billings, I would have to say that, given the sharing aspect, it might be a good investment of some of the stimulus money. The Bugle will withhold judgment on the project until such time as there actually is a project plan to review and it has gone through the entire Montana MEPA process. While there are good and bad things to say about the proposal, the fact remains that the burning of coal is going to be with us for a long time yet and anything we can do to make it a cleaner fuel would be a good thing. At the same time, we need to see some real science done and some real results obtained and not just a $250 million PR project for coal producers. Read the article in the Great Falls Tribune. $100 million invested in energy conservation and renewable technology would generate a great deal of green, non-polluting energy a lot sooner than any  advantage we would see from sequestered carbon so, if this project is to be done, it needs to be done correctly and we all need to stay informed about it’s progress.

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4 Responses

  1. […] If you really want to understand how positively fruitless – not to say dangerously untested, considering the consequences and length of time-frames we are talking about – sequestration is, be sure to read Button Valley Press’ Captive Carbon? and CO2 Going To The Birds. […]

  2. […] posts on the subject of carbon sequestration: Button Valley Press’ Captive Carbon? and CO2 Going To The Birds. Both of those posts do a good job at explaining why injecting carbon dioxide into the ground is a […]

  3. […] that while it might sound all wonderful and fabulous, is it? Button Valley’s second post, CO2 Going To The Birds give that reasonable person even more scary […]

  4. […] sequestration. Button Valley Press does far better at explaining its ills and faults here with CO2 Going To The Birds and here with Captive Carbon?. The latter is pretty scary…don’t pass that post by. This […]

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