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CCS questions remain

Climate legislation in both the Senate and House seek billions of dollars to fund carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) projects nationwide. Is this technology safe? Is it cost effective? Does it work? Does it even exist? These are the questions that we need to answer before we begin to just lob money at energy companies.

At a conference Monday at San Rafael’s Dominican University, former vice president Al Gore voiced skepticism about the technology.

“I hope that it works,” Gore said. “But it bears the burden of implausibility. If you’re the manager of a large coal plant, your business plan is to sell electricity. If you put carbon-capture sequestration technology there, it will take one third of the electricity you were selling. That’s going to make your business plan go haywire, and there’s a limit to how much taxpayers are going to want to pick up the tab.”

We are prepared to spend billions on a technology that has not been demonstrated to be feasible at the level it needs to be. Other nations have also jumped on the CCS bandwagon. Canada is spending billions on projects to demonstrate that the process works. China is pushing the technology because it has no choice, but they have serious doubts. They fear that the cost of reducing CO2 emissions may impact the economy, the expense of increased energy production to support CCS, and that the dangers posed by an accidental release of gas may be too high to make it feasible. Ma Yanhe, Director-General of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology told Reuters,

“Apart from reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is not making very significant contributions to sustainable development. The technology itself is also energy intensive and the significant energy consumption is quite worrisome. Finally, there is no reliable assessment methodology for the long-term environmental impact of this technology.”

Accidental release of captured gases, either from the underground storage locations or from the necessary thousands of miles of high-pressure pipelines could have disastrous consequences. The Guardian reported earlier this summer about the occurrence of a natural CO2 reservoir in Africa and it’s potential for disaster. The Bugle reported on the consequences of carbon storage in March and talked about another catastrophic natural release from Lake Nyos in Cameroon which killed 1,700 people and 3,500 head of livestock in 1986. We also reported last month about problems associated with nearby landowners who are not exactly thrilled about the prospect of storing massive amounts of deadly gas under their property in California. Associated press reports on another story today in the Netherlands about Dutch residents who have doubts about living atop a CO2 reservoir planned for an experimental CCS project.

The problems are real. The expense in both energy and taxpayer funding is real. People could die as a direct and indirect result of CCS technology. Never the less, these projects will move forward around the world and the Bugle will be there to keep you updated.


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