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CCS has the potential to significantly reduce global carbon emissions.

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A discussion of the issues and policies related to carbon capture and storage technology.*

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*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the position(s) of the ENGO Network on CCS. 


GCCSI Releases its Latest Report on the Status of CCS


This post was written by George Peridas of NRDC and originally appeared in NRDC Switchboard on Oct. 12, 2013.

The Global Carbon Capture & Storage Institute (GCCSI) just released its latest Global Status of CCS annual report, underscoring once again the important role of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in a world where fossil fuels continue to supply the bulk of our energy needs and where drastic reductions in carbon pollution are urgently needed. It also summarizes the status of the technology, recent progress, and needed actions by decision makers to make CCS a meaningful climate mitigation strategy.

The report is very readable and self-explanatory, but a couple of points are worth bringing out since they can be counter-intuitive or surprising to some.

“CCS technology is well understood, and a reality”

Contrary to claims being made in reaction to U.S. EPA’s new Carbon Pollution Standard for new power plants that CCS is not yet commercially available, the GCCSI report underscores that “[i]n reality, the technology is generally well understood and has been used for decades at a large scale in certain applications.”  More evidence is in the report itself and under Dan Lashof’s recent post here. Instead, GCCSI identifies that “[i]nsuffcient policy support is a key barrier”.

This is hardly surprising. In fact, we have been saying this for years now: Without a clear policy signal to the private sector and some government support for early projects, CCS technology will not achieve the scale of deployment needed to make a dent in tackling climate change.  However, policy makers continue to get it wrong, with the most striking current example being Europe, as my environmental NGO colleagues outline here.

“More projects are entering operation and construction”

We should be buoyed by the Institute’s findings on the project front.  Even though the market and policy pieces are not there yet for broad deployment, considerable and important progress is being made in capturing CO2 from large applications and injecting it underground. As recently as 2008, we routinely spoke of a handful or so of CCS flagship projects. Despite some project cancellations over the past year, which are normal events in the project development world, the number of operational and soon-to-be-operational CCS projects has grown significantly.

Since 2008, the number of large-scale integrated projects that are operating has doubled from six to twelve. Four commenced operation in 2013 alone, and three of these are in the U.S.  Eight more projects are either under construction or about to begin, and are expected to become operational in 2014 and 2015.  Several more are in the permitting or investment decision phase.

And the winner is…

North America. The Institute identifies the U.S. and Canada as the two countries where CCS pilot project development is most prolific at the moment (see p.36-37). The region is hosting several of these projects as a result of government support for the technology, opportunities to pursue enhanced oil recovery alongside the projects, and sufficient technical and regulatory know-how. Several projects have come online recently, and more will be doing so shortly, including power sector projects. These include the Kemper County IGCC (MS), Boundary Dam (SK), Air Products (TX), Coffeyville (KS), Lost Cabin (WY), Texas Clean Energy Project (TX), Alberta Trunkline (AB), Shell Quest (AB) and others (more details in the report). We should keep this in perspective though.

The commendable progress on these pilot plants should not be an excuse for us to take our eyes off the real goal. We are still a long way off the pace and scale of CCS development needed to curb carbon pollution in a meaningful way, and the Institute underscores this. Government funding alone will not achieve this – we need accompanying limits on emissions and emission performance standards such as those being contemplated by EPA right now.


What then should be the main take-away from the report? Unquestionably, that governments – not scientists or engineers – have the most work to do to make CCS a reality more broadly. Stakeholders have to help governments move faster. In the meantime however, let’s not overlook the significant progress that is being made by pilot and commercial-scale projects. The fleet is growing and field results continue to be positive. But we must move even faster to safeguard our atmosphere.

ENGO Perspectives Included in New Report


This post was written by Chris Smith, coordinator of the ENGO Network on CCS. 

North America is a leader in the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage with seven of the world’s 12 operational large-scale integrated projects located in the United States and one in Canada, according to a new report released by the Global CCS Institute.

Even with these projects, “The Global Status of CCS: 2013 Report” acknowledges that global momentum has been too slow if CCS is to play a significant part in combating climate change at the lowest costs.

Chapter topics in the report include policy, legal and regulatory developments, the business case, and public engagement, which features the ENGO Network on CCS. This chapter includes a section called “Improving Communication and Collaboration” and states that environmental nongovernment organisations (ENGOs) “tend to be highly influential advocates because they are generally perceived as independent, credible, and motivated to act in the best interests of the public (Terwel et al., 2011). As such, it is in the best interests of ENGOs and CCS proponents to engage in an ongoing dialogue and find common goals in working toward the broader climate change mitigation objective.”

In a sidebar, ZERO's Camilla Svendsen Skriung explains our ENGO Network on CCS approach: “As would be expected, our organisations approached CCS with caution … after a long and careful study of the available science, we have concluded that CCS can be carried out safely and effectively, provided it is adequately regulated. Our conclusions are based on, and are backed by, an overwhelming consensus of the scientific literature and prominent research institutions.”

The Global CCS Institute released the report today at its annual international members’ meeting in Seoul, North Korea. ENGO Member David Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council is attending the meeting and will write a blog summary from his perspective, so be sure to visit this site again soon.

CCS is Real and It Works


This post was written by Ida Sofia Vaa, web journalist for ZERO, who writes about CCS-related topics for She has project management experience from higher education and research organisations in Norway and the U.S., from freelance writing and translations and the feminist radio station RadiOrakel in Oslo. She is currently located in Hanover, New Hampshire.


Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is still viewed by some as only a theoretical solution to creating cleaner energy and industry, but the technology is already here and has been used for years. This is not rocket science; the technology is quite straightforward. Any engineer will tell you that CCS is basic knowledge within the scientific community. So the issue is not the lack of technology or experience, but the lack of commitment from policymakers to push for CCS in all industries using fossil fuels. The ENGO Network on CCS’s goal is to inform and influence decisions makers to make policies that support a more widespread use of CCS where it works best.


CCS has been around for decades. The first CCS project was established in Lubbock, Texas, in the early eighties This was the first gas plant with carbon dioxide (CO2) capture, selling CO2 for beverages and for Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR), and there have been several successful CCS projects around the world since then. In fact, oil companies have injected and geologically trapped more than a billion tons of CO2 over the last four decades. And as CCS is beginning to be applied to electricity generation, commercial vendors are now offering performance gauntness for carbon capture on power plants.


Canada is one of the leading countries when it comes to CCS, and the North American-based projects Great Plains Synfuels Plant (Dakota Gas) and Weyburn-Midale CO2 Project (Cenovus and Apache Energy), are some of the largest projects today. Synfuels began to capture carbon in 2000 to supply the Weyburn field with CO2 for EOR. Great Plains Synfuels plant uses a pre-combustion technique to capture 3 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and Weyburn-Midale stores up to 30 million tonnes of CO2.


Another large and successful project is the one in Shute Creek, Wyoming. The operation in Shute Creek started in 1996, and now captures 7 million tonnes of CO2 every year from natural gas. The CO2 is transported to several oil and gas refineries for EOR, especially to Salt Creek, which is the largest EOR project in the US.


Air Products in Port Arthur, Texas began carbon capture in 2011 and is a project that mitigates the CO2 emissions from an industrial application, in this case hydrogen. It is one of several examples of industry, like cement and steel too, taking care of its greenhouse gases (GHG) the only way possible, namely using CCS technology. This project captures 1 million tonnes of CO2 per year, and the CO2 is used for EOR projects.


There are two CCS power projects under construction that are slated to begin in 2014. SaskPower is retrofitting CCS onto its existing Boundary Dam plant,120MW unit that will capture 1 million tons per year. Southern Company is building a new power plant that will capture more than 2 million tons per year. Both projects are using EOR for storage.


Not all CO2 is can be used for EOR though, most of it has to be stored offshore or underground without being used at all. CO2 used for EOR has to be permanently stored at the end of operation as well. One of the largest storage projects outside North America is the Sleipner field off the coast of Norway. Statoil has captured CO2 since 1996 and stores it 800 meters under the seabed. The storage site has been continuously monitored for safety reasons, but also for researchers to learn how the CO2 behaves under pressure beneath the sea. The Sleipner field has stored more than 15 million tonnes of CO2 since startup.


The experience and knowledge gathered from these and other projects around the world only confirms that CCS is working, and it is working well.


Another pushback on CCS relates to cost. The technology is expensive to implement, and may add extra costs for the retailers who buy energy from fossil fuels. The cost depends on the type of emission, the capture technology used, the distance to the storage site, the qualities of the storage site, whether the emission source is built with capture from day one or capture is retrofitted to an existing emission source, and variable costs like prices on materials and availability of real estate. The greatest expense relates to its application to power and industrial sources that are at the beginning of the cost/experience curve. While the technology has been used on sources like natural as processing for decades, it has only recently begun to be used on sources such as power plants.


The cost decreases when the technology becomes more widespread and so will the energy loss. Building common infrastructures for storage that can be used by many different emission sources reduces costs of storage. Improvements in technology increase efficiency and reduce costs.


CCS today is dependent on some level of government subsidy or other kinds of support to be economically feasible. However, as with all technologies, as new projects are built, the costs will go down. In order to move these technologies off of subsidies, it is important to set emission standards or CO2 prices at a level that will drive deployment. By using national, regional and global policy measures, we can create a virtuous circle, where emission/CO2 price levels help drive deployment, which drive costs down, which in turn catalyzes broader market and regulatory and drivers – to the point where CCS is widely deployed on a global scale.


Questioning CCS technology is no longer an excuse to not implement CCS for industries where fossil fuels are being used.   


ENGO Network Meeting in Scotland


This post was written by Chris Smith, coordinator of the ENGO Network on CCS. It originally appeared May 31, 2013 on Insights, a GCCSI online publication.

Members of the ENGO Network on CCS gathered last week in Edinburgh, Scotland, for their annual retreat, which coincided with the launch of Moving CCS Forward in Europe, a white paper examining the current status of CCS in Europe, why policy efforts have stalled and recommendations for improving momentum.

Lead author Chris Littlecott with E3G talked about the paper and how environmental NGOs could help advance public and political dialogue during a panel session on communicating CCS at Thursday’s Global CCS Institute Europe, Middle East and Africa Members' Meeting.

“To move CCS forward in Europe, we need to look beyond the limits of the current bureaucratic imagination,” Littlecott said, adding that politicians and policymakers could benefit from creation of new policies focusing on how CCS could boost low-carbon competitiveness and job retention.

ENGO members from Bellona Foundation and ZERO are co-contributors to the report, which also includes ideas on how EU-wide and Member States policy incentives could work together to accelerate action on CCS, as well as a look at how Norway might be able to cooperate further with the EU given its established CCS leadership aspirations.

Points of emphasis made at the ENGO retreat also seemed to parallel those made by speakers at the Institute's meeting. For example, discussions at both meetings included comments lamenting the lack of global political leadership around CCS; a recognition that public understanding of this technology could be improved through better and increased communication; and a collaborative desire to propagate messaging surrounding CCS’s integral role in overall energy and renewables discourse.

So what did we take away from our Scotland retreat and and the Institute's meeting? Comments and impressions include the following:

  • Perhaps the most important recurring theme to come out of the Institute's Members' Meeting in Edinburgh this year has been the pressing need for strong political leadership on CCS. Through targeted international collaboration and information sharing, the ENGO Network is working to address this need. It's goal: to work with political decision makers and other key stakeholders to provide the political commitment and regulatory frameworks so desperately needed to unlock investment in CCS.

  • Procrastination on CCS now will greatly reduce the performance and even the possibility of reaching effective climate goals later.

  • The ENGO retreat is a priceless experience to connect, learn, and collaborate with colleagues from around the world. The retreat framed my NGO work in an international context and I was able to learn from the experiences of other nations’ initiatives and regulatory experiences.

  • It is worthwhile noting that both meetings included discussion on the potential for emissions performance standards to be a critical driver of CCS.

  • We need to talk more about the role CCS can play in helping the natural gas sector reduce emissions.

My favorite quotes were from former executive director of the International Energy Agency’s Claude Mandil, who gave closing remarks at the Institute's meeting and a call to action for all attendees: “Be consistent, insistent and persistent. There is absolutely no future without CCS being a part of it.”

Preferred bidders in UK CCS competition announced


This post, contributed by ENGO Network Member Paal Frisvold, originally appeared March 20, 2013 on Bellona's online site.

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced the two preferred bidders under its € 1.2 billion CCS (CO2 Capture and Storage) competition today, 20 March. “This will bring the UK to the forefront in the development of cost-competitive CCS industry in Europe”, says Paal Frisvold, Chairman of the Board, Bellona Europa, “the British developments will bring us one step closer to discover the costs and technological solutions needed to demonstrate CCS on a commercial scale”.


Today’s announcement is excellent news for Bellona and the whole CCS community. CCS projects taking off the ground is what is needed the most at the moment, especially after NER300 failing to deliver any CCS funding in its first round. It is clear that the UK will now be at the forefront of the European CCS investment, moving in the direction of cost competitive CCS industry.


The projects
The White Rose Project in Yorkshire, England, and the Peterhead Project in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, were chosen from a shortlist of four after an intensive period of commercial negotiations.


The White Rose is an oxyfuel capture project at a proposed new 304MW fully abated supercritical coal-fired power station on the Drax site in North Yorkshire. The project involves capturing 90% of the CO2 from a new coal-fired power station, before transporting to and finally storing it in a saline aquifer beneath the North Sea.


The Peterhead Project would capture 85% of the CO2 from part of the existing gas fired power station at Peterhead. The CO2 would then be transported and stored in depleted gas fields beneath the North Sea. Peterhead has previously been considered for a CCS project in the mid 2000’s.


The future of the UK CCS Competition
The € 1.2 billion of capital funding made available under the UK CCS Commercialisation Competition will support the practical experience in the design, construction and operation of commercial-scale CCS. More specifically the funding is meant to:

  • generate learning that will help drive down the costs of CCS;
  • test and build familiarity with the CCS specific regulatory framework;
  • encourage industry to develop suitable CCS business models; and
  • contribute to the development of early infrastructure for CO2 transport and storage.

Following today’s announcement UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey, said that “[this] moves us a significant step closer to a Carbon Capture and Storage industry – an industry which will help reduce carbon emissions and create thousands of jobs”.


The Government will now undertake discussions with the two preferred bidders to agree terms by the summer for Front End Engineering Design studies, which will last approximately 18 months. A final investment decision will be taken by the Government in early 2015 on the construction of up to two projects.


For more information on CCS and prospective project, please visit Bellona’s CCS web

CCS and Carbon Budgets


This post written by David HawkinsDirector, Climate Programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. It originally appeared January 21, 2013 on Insights, a GCCSI online publication.

The latest climate talks in Doha ended a month ago and the gulf between what science says is needed to protect the climate and countries’ commitments to cut emissions is larger than ever. Where might one find forces that could help break the logjam? Perhaps, in some surprising places.

First, a précis of how much of a jam we are in. Just a few weeks before the Doha meeting, the International Energy Agency (IEA), in its World Energy Outlook, accurately summarized the science of what needs to happen to global emissions if the 2oC target is to remain an option. In short, the world needs a carbon budget. To preserve just a 50 per cent chance of keeping global temperature increases to no more than 2oC, IEA concludes the world can emit a cumulative total of 679 billion metric tonnes (Gt) of CO2 from energy use between 2012 and 2035. IEA calculates that 81 per cent of this budget will be consumed by equipment (power plants, factories, buildings, vehicles) already operating today, if these facilities operate for their normal useful lives at their current emission rates.

Now, having only 19 per cent of the 2oC budget left for all new capital investments for the next two decades is daunting enough but IEA points out that this remaining headroom will disappear in a flash without additional policy action. IEA projects that the new investments under a future where the world’s governments carry out only the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation pledges made to date (what IEA terms the New Policies Scenario), means that the entire remainder of the 2oC budget would be locked-in only five years from now, in 2017. Thus, if we delay just five more years, to keep the 2oC option alive, even as a 50-50 proposition, “after 2017 any new power plants, industrial plants, new buildings, road vehicles or water boilers that consume fossil fuels could be built only if existing infrastructure were retired early to the extent necessary to offset emissions from the additional infrastructure” (IEA, WEO 2012 at 265).

The message from IEA is clear: the world’s major emitting countries cannot wait for international negotiations to wind their way to a potential new agreement before they step up the pace of their own efforts to cut emissions. And the IEA report points out some important no-brainer steps that could be taken immediately. Leading the list is a comprehensive program to adopt all known, technically-feasible energy efficiency measures that are also economically viable (IEA used a set of assumptions of reasonable payback periods for energy efficiency investments to define economic viability). IEA’s Efficient World Scenario summarizes what this program would achieve:

  • significantly slow the burn rate of the remaining 2oC budget, buying another five year grace period to 2022 before the 2oC budget would be fully committed
  • boost cumulative global economic output by $18 trillion through 2035, with the largest GDP boosts occurring in the world’s biggest emitting countries (China, US, India, OECD Europe)
  • cut growth in global primary energy demand in half compared to the New Policies Scenario
  • reduce oil demand in 2035 by 12.7 million barrels per day, cutting the oil-import bills of the five largest importers by 25 per cent (IEA, WEO 2012, Chapter 10).

This is an agenda that governments and private sector actors should get behind without delay. It requires policies to break down non-market barriers as detailed in the IEA report. But the environmental and economic payoffs are clear and do not depend on the willingness of countries to agree on next steps in international negotiations.

While energy efficiency is the long pole waiting to be picked up, as we take those actions, we need to increase our attention to other potentially powerful tools to protect the climate. Of course, this includes efforts to accelerate deployment of renewable energy resources. But today’s market share of these resources is so small that even phenomenal renewables growth rates mean that we will continue to use a great deal of fossil energy—much more than a safe carbon budget allows.

This prospect brings us to carbon capture and storage (CCS). My colleague, Camilla Svendsen Skriung, has blogged on a recent white paper describing what is required to help make CCS into a serious tool in the climate protection toolbox. The paper was authored by a number of environmental NGOs (including NRDC where I work).

Let me sketch some thoughts on the strategic importance of CCS, both to climate protection campaigners such as myself, and to those we are routinely combating, particularly fossil fuel producers. For essentially the entire period since the climate policy debate began more than two decades ago, our operating frame has been that of a zero-sum game: if fossil-fuel producers win, climate protection loses and vice versa. And there are powerful reasons for that paradigm to have taken hold. Indeed, the IEA’s latest report contains figures that reinforce that paradigm in many quarters. Consider this jaw-dropping comparison of the cumulative emissions budget for a 2oC target with the CO2 emissions embodied in today’s proven reserves of fossil fuels: to keep a 50-50 chance of holding onto 2oC, IEA calculates the world can emit 679 Gt of CO2 from fossil fuels from now to 2035 (with another 205 Gt out to 2050). But the public and private owners of fossil fuels have already proven reserve holdings of coal, oil, and gas with nearly 2900 Gt of potential CO2 emissions. So today’s proven fossil reserves outweigh a sane climate protection budget by three to one.

Note we are not talking about abstract concepts of ultimately recoverable resources here. Proven reserves are assets owned by today’s operating enterprises and governments, which are capable of being brought to market with today’s technologies and prices. If these institutions perceive that protecting the climate means abandoning more than two-thirds of these assets, it is not difficult to explain their role as a primary roadblock to meaningful action on climate change. Similarly, it is easy to understand why the environmental community, in general, regards an end to the use of fossil fuels as the only plausible path for climate protection. The problem with this paradigm from the environmental perspective is that it encourages policy paralysis, which is what we have endured with rare exceptions for the past decades. The problem with this paradigm from the fossil fuel producers’ perspective is that climate disruption continues even if policy is frozen. Politicians may ignore climate change but natural systems do not; and nature bats last. Continuing to block meaningful action will not insulate fossil fuel reserve holders from the accumulating risk of 'anti-fossil fuel' policy responses to the inevitable harmful impacts of a climate that has been driven off the rails by accumulated CO2 in the atmosphere.

In this context, CCS has the potential to be a disruptive technology. CCS can introduce a new degree of freedom into the solution set for human societies: climate protection need not be tied ineluctably to how fast the world reduces its use of fossil fuels. This is not to argue that we can or should continue the current level of dependence on such fuels. We should not. But if the availability of CCS as a tool can hasten the day when the world takes climate protection seriously, that is a good thing. But can CCS play a helpful role in bringing down the wall that separates the world of political action from the world of climate science? Many of my friends in the environmental community are sceptical that it can and there are ample grounds for that scepticism. To date, too many in the fossil fuel industry have used CCS as a shield against climate policy action rather than embracing it as an enabler of action.

But this could change if private and government fossil fuel reserve holders come to terms with the reality of a finite carbon budget and its implications. While the world today is not behaving as though there is a finite limit on the amount of carbon that can be released from fossil fuel use, this can change with little advance notice. Firms and governments that hold those reserves have no way to predict when that change will happen. And the reality of the finite carbon budget is that the later that change occurs, the more extreme will be the impact on the operations of fossil fuel producers. The world is not just burning up the carbon budget at an accelerating rate; it is burning up the lead-time that fossil fuel producers would like to have when the inevitable policy-awakening for climate protection occurs. Fossil fuel producers could gamble that the allure of their products will continue to be so powerful that policymakers and the public will just accept an increasingly disrupted climate rather than act to constrain fossil fuel use. But the more astute will recognize that this is an increasingly bad bet. For those actors, CCS can be understood as a powerful tool to reduce the carbon budget burn rate and provide a more manageable transition.

The broader investor community will soon grasp these facts. The value of their investments in fossil fuel producing companies is dependent in significant part on the assumption that each firm will be able to turn their proven reserves into a reliable revenue stream. Some of these investors, especially large institutional investors, may be quicker to understand and accept the reality of a finite carbon budget. For them, divestment of fossil fuel holdings becomes not just an ethical proposition but a way to reduce financial risk. If such divestment takes hold, it will become a powerful external force for fossil fuel owners to change their behaviour. In addition, regulators like the US Securities and Exchange Commission will be pressed to require more substantial disclosure and quantification of these risks. Similarly, shareholder resolutions pressing for action plans from company management are likely.

The actions fossil reserve holders need to take to reduce the risks of stranded reserves go far beyond contributing modest amounts to help finance the occasional pilot or demonstration CCS project. Rather, fossil fuel producers as a group must recognize that they actually need a climate policy regime that will leave space in the carbon budget by cutting the carbon burn rate now. That will include policies that enable commercial-scale CCS operations to become economically competitive. That will require some combination of performance standards, carbon pricing and probably initial subsidies for pioneer projects. If fossil fuel producers put serious political muscle behind adoption of such policies it would serve their own interests as well as help break down the wall of inaction on climate protection.

New year, new resolve for carbon capture and storage?


Note: This post was written by Chris Littlecott, a Senior Policy Adviser at E3G and a Policy Research Associate with Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage, and originally appeared on the Greenpeace UK blog Energydesk.

She made her list and checked it twice, and finally decided who was naughty or nice. European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard played Santa just before Christmas, awarding €1.2bn of funding for 23 innovative renewables projects across Europe. But frozen out of this funding round were projects aiming to demonstrate carbon capture and storage (CCS) at commercial scale.


This is hugely embarrassing for European efforts to address climate change, and particularly for the UK. For the creation of the ‘NER300’ mechanism was agreed back in 2008-09 following British diplomatic efforts and cross-party political leadership. Indeed, the UK submitted 7 of the original 13 CCS projects originally under consideration. As late as October 2012 the UK still had 4 projects out of the 8 vying for funding.


So what went wrong?

One senior European Commission official (who should know better), has been heard to say that ‘CCS is dead’. This is simply not true. The technology for CCS is alive and kicking. Commercial scale capture projects are under construction in Canada and the USA. Injection of CO2 into deep geological formations continues onshore in the USA and offshore by Norway. China is rapidly developing pilot projects of its own, and is set to invest $1bn in a CCS project in Texas. Of course there is still a long way to go, but the problem isn’t the technology.


Here in Europe, CCS projects looking to receive funding from the NER300 were scrutinised and ranked by the European Investment Bank (just as the renewables projects were). Then member states were asked to confirm which projects they would support, together with the level of co-funding they would contribute.


The French government confirmed co-funding for the proposed steel mill CCS project at Florange, only for ArcelorMittal to withdraw at the last minute. The Florange plant was the host location for a CCS demonstration on behalf of a wider consortium of European steel producers. CCS offered the prospect of job retention and a value-added, low-carbon product. The unions are right to be furious.


Other governments performed less well. The Dutch government came too late with a revised offer to support their proposed Green Hydrogen project. The Romanian government had taken positive steps by introducing a feed in tariff for CCS, but were unable to commit funding given an impending election and a fight with the European Commission about EU budget spending. The Italian economy is struggling and its project is behind schedule. Poland meanwhile has been staying close to its broader strategy and holding out for more funding. That leaves us with the UK: the EU member state best-placed to deliver CCS.


A promise unfulfilled

Let’s rewind to the closing months of the last Labour government. After the great success of the Kingsnorth coal campaign, Ed Miliband recognised that there would be ‘no new coal without CCS’. Energy Act 2010 was then enacted with cross-party support, creating a dedicated levy for CCS. This was projected to raise around £11bn over 15 years to support a programme of 4 CCS demonstration projects and associated infrastructure. The Act also required government to regularly report on progress made on power sector decarbonisation and the demonstration of CCS. The first report was quietly published on 20th December 2012. It refers to the development of proposals for Electricity Market Reform, and presents data on power sector emissions in 2010 and 2011. But the real story of what has occurred is entirely missing.


When the coalition government took office in 2010, it promised not only to be the ‘greenest government ever’, but also that it would be ‘First Choice for Investment in CCS’. All-too-quickly, however, these aims were undermined by decisions from Treasury and delays from DECC.

The newly-agreed CCS levy was pulled by Treasury. The negotiation of the first CCS competition ended without award to the last-standing Longannet project. A further year was lost before a new CCS commercialisation competition was launched, but at last it looked like the timelines for decisions under the UK and EU competitions would align. But to great disappointment and surprise, the only firm decision made by DECC in October 2012 was to kick out 2CO’s proposed Don Valley project, with neither firm selections of projects nor confirmation of funding made to the other bidders. Doubts continue over the availability of capital funding in this spending period.


So when it comes to delivering on the agreed rules of the EU’s NER300 programme it is the UK government who has most visibly failed to deliver. Yes, CCS projects are different than renewables, and yes, the co-funding requirements are an order of magnitude larger. But EU funding was there for the taking, and the UK failed to grab it.


New year, new approach

Early action on CCS would have helped European policy makers accelerate decarbonisation of both power generation and industrial emitters. This would have increased political confidence in the desirability and deliverability of European climate policy. But the economic crisis has accentuated the foot-dragging approach of many fossil fuel interests and highlighted weaknesses in the policy framework. Smarter policy choices are required to rebuild momentum and unlock political support for CCS.


At EU level, there needs to be a pause for breath rather than a headlong rush into the second round of NER300 funding. The original approach favoured CCS projects on coal and lignite, but a focus on CCS on gas and industrial emitters would provide greater value to the European economy and support existing technological leadership. Adjusting these criteria would take a few months, but the wait could be worth it. With the EU looking to strengthen the ETS in the meantime, not only could the business case for CCS be improved, but additional funds might become available from the auctioning of the remaining 100 million allowances in the NER300 pot. Member state co-funding would be easier to secure too with more time available.

In the UK, decisions in the new year can also make all the difference. After losing the strong hand of cards it held just 2 years ago, DECC needs to craft a can-do approach that strengthens its chances of success. It must lift its eyes to the bigger picture and communicate a vision of how CCS will play a catalytic role in enabling the low-carbon economy. It must start by supporting all 4 of the UK’s remaining projects through the next stage of detailed engineering development, and fast-track action to create regional CCS development zones. The Energy Bill should complement this by bringing gas plant into the scope of the Emissions Performance Standard by 2030 at the latest.


Policy choices along these lines would inject some new energy back into the CCS sector. And a fresh approach that focuses on industrial benefits, job retention potential and a clear commitment to decarbonisation would also help win new friends. 2013 begins with a need for strengthened resolve to make CCS happen in Europe. Let’s make it happen.


Response to Accompany MITs PNAS Letter


Note: This post is written by Bruce Hill, Ph.D., Senior Geologist with the Clean Air Task Force.

In the December 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a published letter by MIT researchers Ruben Juanez, Howard Herzog and Brad Hagar (see: provides several geophysical counter-arguments to a 2012 PNAS Perspectives piece by Stanford researchers Mark Zoback and Steve Gorelick questioning the viability of sequestering commercial volumes of captured CO2 and an attendant potential risk of induced seismicity. 

Zoback and Gorelick maintain that much of the deep basement rock across North America is at critical stress – a point at which a perturbation, such as commercial CO2 injections, could cause failure and induced seismicity. However, in their letter, Juanez et al. counter that most of the earthquake hypocenters (the focal point of the rock rupture and earthquake in the subsurface) are far deeper than the saline formations that would accept CO2 for storage, and that the rock properties in the shallow crust would accommodate stress rather than rupture. Moreover, they point out that in highly seismic areas, such as in southern California, that geologic traps have held buoyant CO2 for millions of years.

Finally, Juanez et al. point out that the Mountaineer project example that Zoback and Gorelick cite is not representative of the many excellent saline formations that could accept commercial volumes of captured CO2 and that site selection is essential to successful storage. Zoback and Gorelick have, themselves, responded with a letter countering Juanez et al.'s views.  However there is more to the debate than the rock mechanics.

While this healthy scientific debate focuses on the geophysical aspects of injection of commercial volumes of CO2 into saline aquifers, there is a broader set of considerations that must be incorporated into a rational dialogue on the ability of North American geology to accommodate commercial-scale carbon storage. For example, injection of CO2 into depleted petroleum reservoirs, with known capacities, injectivity and infrastructure could accommodate many decades of captured CO2.

According to a 2012 National Academy of Science report, there have been no cases of observed humanly perceptible induced seismicity associated with CO2 injections associated with enhanced oil recovery, which has successfully taken place for four decades. Moreover, associated with these formations are brine formations that offer large volume, "stacked storage"–managed CO2 injection and storage in sandstones or carbonate rocks above or below the producing intervals in oil fields. Other storage options include offshore reservoirs in the Gulf Coast, being studied presently by the University of Texas, or management of subsurface reservoir pressures via production of formation water such that they never reach a critical state of stress. Furthermore, specific EPA geologic sequestration rules require that operators inject CO2 at pressures that would not induce rock failure.

All told, while regulators should take care to ensure that significant induced seismicity does not occur, there is ample evidence, beyond the geophysics, that many decades of CO2 can be accommodated by North America's geologic resources. 


An NGO Perspective on CCS


This post written by Camilla Svendsen Skriung of ZERO, originally appeared on Insights, a GCCSI online publication.

Governments have a pivotal role in ensuring carbon capture and storage is used as part of a suite of tools to combat global warming, says a report written by the ENGO Network on CCS for UN climate talks in Qatar.

The network’s study, Perspectives on Carbon Capture and Storage, urges swift action by governments to not only set a price on carbon but also place a significant market value on the avoidance of CO2 emissions. Without supportive policies worldwide, the report says, there is no economic driver for CCS and little incentive for operators of power plants or industrial facilities to capture and store CO2.

The report was presented to the COP18 gathering in Doha this week by members of the ENGO Network on CCS. It has been welcomed by climate experts, such as Lord Nicholas Stern and former executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), Claude Mandil, who both attended the report launch in support of its findings.

We hope the report can contribute to broaden the discussion of CCS as a complement to the key strategies of energy efficiency and renewable resources in combating climate change. The need now to embrace all climate solutions is paramount. This is not a time for discrediting technologies that has proven its potential for mitigating CO2 emissions. We need to use all solutions, be it small or large ones, to reach our needed climate targets.

As would be expected, our organisations have approached CCS with caution. The prospect of injecting millions of tons of compressed carbon dioxide in the subsurface has to be taken seriously. After long and careful study of the available science, we have concluded that CCS can be carried out safely and effectively, provided it is adequately regulated. Our conclusions are based on, and are backed by, an overwhelming consensus of the scientific c literature and prominent research institutions.

The Network believes that CCS has a valuable role to play in the climate mitigation portfolio, alongside other solutions. First generation CCS technology is commercially available today, enabling the deployment of the technology to begin worldwide immediately.. Regulatory frameworks for carbon dioxide injection are being finalised in various countries around the world, and it is important that these contain adequate safeguards for public health and the environment, and that all countries abide by minimum standards.

Now we need political will and action to ensure that CCS can take the needed part of reducing the global emissions of greenhouse gases.

These are our main findings and recommendations:

  • Limits and a price on carbon - Governments have the most important role to play in advancing CCS. Since the technology is ready to begin deployment but is being held back by market and regulatory conditions, concerted policy intervention holds the key to its future prospects. The biggest policy imperative for CCS, or indeed other large-scale clean energy technologies, is for limits on carbon emissions and an associated price on carbon. Without limits and a price – be it direct or indirect – there is no real need for markets to gravitate toward a technology that is specifically targeted toward reducing carbon emissions.
  • Overcome the initial high-cost hurdle for first movers - CCS comes at a price premium today, but significant cost reductions are expected to be achieved once the initial ‘hump’ is overcome. Governments have a long track record in assisting technologies through these initial stages until technological improvements and a sufficient body of experience and know-how enable costs to come down. A correctly structured subsidy or assistance program would act as a catalyst to enable broader and faster deployment at lower cost.  But such programs cannot by themselves provide a viable pathway toward deployment, since operating costs also need to be covered on an ongoing basis. For that reason, a price on carbon is a necessary prerequisite for subsidies or assistance programs. Finally, alongside such programs, sustained basic research and development (R&D) would ensure that a new generation of technologies is ready to replace existing ones.
  • More effective regulations and mechanisms - We also believe that regulations mandating or providing a pathway for CCS deployment are necessary, and complementary to limits and a price on carbon emissions. Performance standards for particular types of facilities, for example, can safeguard against market failures and provide a clear pathway for CCS deployment that provides the needed certainty for the large capital investments needed. Although some have argued that the market should deliver the optimal solutions, there is ample evidence that markets do not operate as intended and that failures due to bad design, application or unforeseen circumstances can cause significant distortions and delays. Our groups are supportive of an international mechanism that will facilitate the development of CCS in developing countries with assistance (technical or financial) from industrialised countries. We believe that a CCS-specific mechanism is needed in order to ensure meaningful deployment in developing countries, its safety and effectiveness, as well as broad acceptance.
  • A global framework for safe CCS - A sound regulatory framework for the safe injection and proper monitoring and accounting of captured, transported and sequestered carbon dioxide is paramount. This framework should cover enhanced hydrocarbon recovery projects as well as deep saline injection. Rigorous regulation is necessary to ensure that projects are sited and operated responsibly by capable entities, that shortcuts are not taken that could endanger public health or the environment, and to establish public trust in the application of the technology.
  • Demonstration projects proving CCS - Finally, a carbon price alone, even combined with incentives, will not be enough to ensure the wide uptake of the CCS technology. Demonstrations are an essential next step in the innovation cycle for CCS, but even if they are successful, they will not magically result in technology uptake. For that uptake to become reality, limits on carbon emissions and regulations against business-as-usual will be necessary.

As well as being a call to action on CCS, the report also reflects the current status of CCS in various geographic regions. Members of the ENGO Network on CCS who contributed to the report are the Clean Air Task Force, E3G, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Climate Institute, The Pembina Institute, World Resources Institute and ZERO.


Emerging economies foster economic growth, consider CCS


 Sarah Forbes is author of this post, which originally appeared on GCCI's Insights November 12, 2012.

Why should a developing country bear the extra costs and impacts of CCS if the rest of the world isn’t using the technology?

From an emerging economy perspective, the costs and efficiency losses associated with CCS pose significant challenges. The country-specific actions described here are not comprehensive, but they do give a sense of how three key emerging economies are thinking about CCS. It is worth noting that collectively, these actions extend beyond international cooperation and include forward-thinking policies and plans to determine whether and how CCS fits into the future energy portfolio.


Research for CCS in China has been conducted since 2006 under the National Basic Research Program of China (973 Program), and since 2007 under the National High-tech Research and Development Program of China (863 Program), which includes a focused research area on CCS. China is also investing in CCS demonstrations abroad, including a September 2012 investment in one of the US demonstrations, the Texas Clean Energy Project.

Importantly, a series of CCS demonstrations are planned and under way in China, which is something the Institute highlighted in the Global Status of CCS: 2012 report. CCS demonstration efforts in China include pre-and post-combustion capture research and demonstration as well as demonstrations of geologic storage and enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR). In August 2012, the Asian Development Bank announced plans to work with the National Development Reform Commission to develop a roadmap for CCS deployment in China. Key milestones in development of CCS in China include:

  1. the National Medium and Long-term Science and Technology Development Plan (2006-2020), which formally establishes CCS as a leading-edge technology;
  2. China’s National Climate Change Program (2007~2010), which sets the goal of the development and dissemination of CCS;
  3. China’s Special Science and Technology Action in Response to Climate Change (2007~2020), which establishes the key task of R&D on CCS; and
  4. the National 12th Five-Year Plan Science and Technology Development Plan (2011-2015), which prompts CCS research and development with provisions to:
    • develop carbon sink techniques (e.g. grass carbon sequestration), mitigation of greenhouse gases in agriculture and land use, and carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) technologies to tackle climate change challenges; and
    • focus on the research and development of advanced technologies, including Gen IV Nuclear Energy Systems, hydrogen and fuel cells, ocean energy, geothermal energy and CCUS.

There has been significant international cooperation on CCS research in China, including engagement with the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) and the Institute, as well as focused cooperative research efforts such as the EU-UK CCS Cooperative Action within China, the US-China Clean Energy Research Center, the China-EU Cooperation on Near Zero Emissions Coal, and the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and China. Cooperative efforts under these programs have spanned basic and applied research, and have also included efforts designed to inform policy and regulatory developments that would enable CCS in China.[2]


India has generally approached CCS cautiously (Rajamani, 2012). Historical actions on CCS in India have included engagement in the international research and development of the technology, including:

  • internationally-funded geological storage assessments;
  • demonstration of CO2 capture with co-benefits, such as capture and utilization via fertilizer generation;
  • participation in the CSLF; and
  • participation in the original FutureGen demonstration project.

The approach document and working group reports that have contributed toward the development of India’s 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-2017) anticipate several future provisions for CCS in India. In Faster, Sustainable and More Inclusive Growth-An Approach to the Twelfth Five Year Plan, the Indian Government will encourage the application of integrated gasification combined cycle. The plan also includes provisions for carefully monitoring the development of technology for CCS and assessing the suitability and cost effectiveness of CCS in India. The Energy Constitution of the working groups identified areas that need attention during the 12th plan, including enhancing domestic oil and gas production via EOR for existing oil fields.

South Africa

South Africa established its South African CCS Centre in March of 2009 with a strategy of developing and implementing a roadmap for deploying CCS in South Africa. The Roadmap outlines the following milestones:

  • 2004: CCS potential (completed);
  • 2010: Carbon Atlas (completed);
  • 2016: test injection, tens of thousands of tons of CO2;
  • 2020: demonstration plant, hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2; and
  • 2025: commercial CCS, millions of tons of CO2.

The Atlas was published in 2010 and indicated that South Africa has 150 gigatonnes of storage capacity. Only 2 per cent of the estimated storage capacity was found onshore. Additional research is under way to move from theoretical to estimates toward projections with more certainty. Planning for the test injection is under way.

The World Bank is currently investing US$1.1 million of its CCS fund on efforts in South Africa, including work on legal and regulatory issues as well as public engagement on CCS.

Although much of the work on CCS in South Africa has centred on geologic storage, the Government supports the development and implementation of CCS and has placed a carbon capture readiness requirement on Eskom’s 5400MW Kusile power station.

Note: This post is a slightly reworked version of Sarah Forbes' chapter in a paper the International CCS ENGO Network on CCS has drafted which summarizes global progress on CCS, from an ENGO perspective. The full paper will be release later this month at COP 18 in Doha.


The Dash for Gas – No Climate Cure Without CCS


Authors for this post are Camilla Svendsen Skriung of ZERO (left) and John Thompson of the Clean Air Task Force. This post originally appeared on GCCSI's Insights on October 22, 2012.


This is the first of a five-part series submitted by the ENGO Network on CCS, an international group of environmental NGOs with a shared mission of pursuing domestic and international policies, regulations and initiatives that enable CCS to deliver on its emissions reduction potential safely and effectively. Posts in the series will delve into issues related to CCS and natural gas, development of CCS in emerging countries, ENGO perspectives of the COP 18 conference live from Doha, and a look at the year ahead in 2013. 

With the advent of unconventional gas technologies, the energy industry has turned toward natural gas as an alternative to coal, a step to energy independence and a solution to climate change worldwide. However, without CCS, natural gas will be unable to achieve needed reductions from the utility sector without carbon capture and storage (CCS). Coal with CCS is in fact better than gas withoutCCS.

Switching from coal to natural gas without CCS won’t solve the climate problem. By mid-century, virtually all of the COemissions from the power sector must be virtually eliminated. Yet without CCS, that goal cannot be achieved. The best natural gas can do, absent CCS, is a 50 per cent cut in carbon dioxide relative to coal, and that assumes no leakage of methane, a very powerful climate forcing gas. While a 50 per cent reduction is helpful, it’s only a half step and a solution that may, in fact, delay the development of CCS technology.

According to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook (WEO 2011), the most optimistic picture – the 450ppm scenario – puts the share of fossil fuels in the energy mix as declining only from 81 per cent to 62 per cent in 2035. Fossil power will therefore need major reductions in CO2 that natural gas alone can’t provide.

The question is whether it is possible to cover both the growing demand for energy and to achieve the large reduction needed in emissions of greenhouse gases based on renewable energy and increased energy efficiency alone by 2030. Even given a massive change in energy policy, it is highly unlikely that the necessary increases in renewable energy production and energy efficiency can be achieved that at the same time accommodate the increasing demand for energy in developing countries. Therefore, fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in supplying energy for decades to come.

Coal is currently the dominant fuel in the power sector, accounting for 38 per cent of electricity generated in 2000, with hydropower accounting for 17.5 per cent, natural gas for 17.3 per cent, nuclear for 16.8 per cent, oil for 9.8 per cent and other renewables for 1.6 per cent. Coal is projected to still be the dominant fuel for power generation in 2020, while natural gas generation will surpass hydro to be the second largest (IEA, 2008). This makes rapid development of large-scale CCS essential for all fossil power, including gas, if we are to cut greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to meet international goals that would curb catastrophic warming of the planet.

Post-combustion capture (PCC) technology is commercially available for natural gas combined cycle plants. The technology faces fewer technical hurdles than coal PCC in part because the emissions from gas contain fewer contaminants. At the same time, new capture technologies are being developed (for example, at the Technology Center Mongstad, Sargas and Next Power) that could drive current natural gas CCS costs down.

In the EU and especially in the UK, there are renewed debates on the future of gas. In July, the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change set out its plans for investment in renewable energy as part of its Renewables Obligation. However, at the same time they said: "We do not expect the role of gas to be restricted to providing back up to renewables, and in the longer term we see an important role for gas with CCS". After 2030, the Government expects to use gas fitted with CCS but will rely on gas without CCS only as needed for backup power. Critics are concerned that recent developments will simply allow gas to be used as a feedstock unabated for decades to come and with no serious commitment to capturing emissions. This would be a setback for commercialization of CCS, which will require substantial lead time.

Between now and 2030, world fossil use for power is projected to almost double. Without CCS on both gas and coal, it’s 'game over' on climate change. Renewables, energy efficiency and nuclear power can prevent some of this fossil growth, but even with massive increases in use of these alternatives, the fossil CO2 footprint will be huge.

To be sure, natural gas CCS faces challenges. Natural gas is presently cheap and new natural gas plants without CO2 controls promise reduced CO2 and at the same time the least expensive source of new power. Yet, in the long run, reliance on natural gas alone now may serve to delay rather than speed greenhouse gas reductions from the power sector. CCS needs to be commercialized now to make genuine progress in reducing greenhouse gases from fossil power. The cost gap could be reduced if stricter CO2 emission limits on gas plants are imposed, incentives for enhanced oil recovery are expanded, and if governmental support for commercial scale-up of CCS is increased, rather than diminished.

At a time when progress on climate change seems stalled because CO2 emissions continue to grow worldwide, natural gas CCS creates a new lower cost low carbon option that can drive down global CO2 emissions and accommodate energy demand growth in the next half century.

CCS and Earthquakes - Anything to Worry About?


Note: This is a cross-posting that originally appeared on the NRDC Switchboard blog June 22, 2012. Guest author is George Peridas with Natural Resources Defense Council.

A paper (“Perspective”) published this week by Stanford University professors Mark Zoback and Steven Gorelick in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences questions the viability of Carbon Capture & Sequestration (CCS) as a climate mitigation technology. A comprehensive report on the potential for seismicity from energy technologies more broadly was also published this week by the National Research Council (NRC). Zoback and Gorelick raise some valid issues that should be looked at, but reach sweeping conclusions without evidence or scientific basis. The NRC report presents a far more balanced analysis of the situation. For the public, some of the key questions that need to be answered are:
  • whether CCS (or other technologies that inject fluids underground) can cause earthquakes;
  • how large and damaging can these be;
  • whether the risk can be managed;
  • whether the technology can be deployed at a meaningful scale; and
  • whether these earthquakes could have undesirable consequences such as leaks of the injected fluids.

Managing earthquakes caused by human activity is an issue that deserves more attention than it has received to date. It can and should be done with today’s tools, but it hasn’t been done everywhere. The NRC report is timely in that respect, and documents known earthquakes caused by human activities. None of these have been caused by CCS projects. The largest seismic event has been caused by an oil/gas extraction operation, while the more frequent sources are geothermal and waste water injection projects. No felt earthquakes are known to have been caused by enhanced oil recovery operations that inject CO2. In most cases, common sense by operators and regulators could have prevented these events. I agree with the NRC study on this point: further study and modeling are in order. Even though smaller earthquakes may not cause any damage, causing them is a profoundly bad idea. It betrays a lack of scrutiny over project operations, especially since they are avoidable.

Zoback and Gorelick however appear to have been causing undue alarm in the media. They state (p. 2) that their “principal concern is not that injection associated with CCS projects is likely to trigger large earthquakes; the problem is that even small to moderate earthquakes threaten the seal integrity of a CO2 repository”. They acknowledge that only slip on large faults can result in earthquakes large enough to cause damage to human environments, and that such faults are easily identified and avoided. No objections on that last point. The potential for slip on existing faults/fractures and seismicity can and should be taken into account during site selection. This is routinely done as part of a proper geomechanical assessment, and Federal Underground Injection Control Program regulations for geologic sequestration operations require “[i]nformation on the seismic history including the presence and depth of seismic sources and a determination that the seismicity would not interfere with containment”.[1] Large seismic events can be avoided in a straightforward way through proper siting and operations.

Zoback’s and Gorelick’s arguments against CCS hinge on the assertion that “[b]ecause laboratory studies show that just a few millimeters of shear displacement are capable of enhancing fracture and joint permeability, several centimeters of slip would be capable of creating a permeable hydraulic pathway that could compromise the seal integrity of the CO2 reservoir and potentially reach the near surface.” In plain English, the authors are saying that even a small earthquake can cause CO2 to escape all the way to the surface, without investigating the circumstances under which this might happen or their applicability to broad scale CCS. This creates the impression that it will happen in every case, and is a big logical leap and a gross simplification, for several reasons.

First, the laboratory studies they cite were performed on granite, which is extremely unlikely to be used as a sealing layer, or “caprock” in a real-life sequestration project. Almost certainly, the caprock will be shale or another low permeability sedimentary rock. The way that a strong but brittle rock like granite deforms in response to stress is very different from the way that softer and more ductile shales and other sedimentary rocks deform, and is therefore not a good analogue.[2]

Second, concluding de facto that joint and fracture permeability in the caprock(s) would increase in all cases, and that a pathway would be created that would result in the migration of CO2 to the surface, is wrong. The degree to which joint and fracture permeability is increased, if at all, depends on many factors, including rock type, stress state, and in-filling materials. This is well documented in a large body of literature on shear-induced behavior of fractures and faults (if you want a flavor, take a look here[3] for example). In fact, situations abound where many large faults that exhibit large slip act as seals and have no effect on permeability. Such is the case in California and Iran, where trapped oil and gas exists despite frequent large natural earthquakes. In these areas, in fact, faults themselves have acted as seals as opposed to pathways for fluid migration, and trapped hydrocarbons over geologic time. Another well-documented event is the magnitude 6.8 earthquake in Chuetsu, which did not result in any leaks in the nearby Nagaoka CO2 injection project. Despite frequent and large natural earthquakes therefore, CO2 and other fluids have remained trapped in the subsurface.

Additionally, assuming that CO2 will reach the surface implies that the fault in question extends from the injection zone to the surface. As the authors themselves note, such a large fault would be easy to identify and avoid. Even if a fault allows CO2 to migrate out of the injection zone, many sites also have multiple sealing layers that impede the motion of fluids to the surface as well as multiple permeable layers that can act as secondary containers. In fact, studies show that such layered systems can help prevent fluids from reaching the surface.[4]Assuming that a pathway will be created all the way to the surface is a huge leap of logic. Fluids can and do move along faults and fractures – but this does not mean that the containment “box” has been breached – fluids can simply move within the “box”, leaving the caprocks intact.

In other words, jumping to the conclusion that a small induced earthquake would result in surface leakage is wrong. That’s not to say that it cannot happen, but the problem with the authors’ assertion is that they then postulate that not enough sites for sequestration can be found that avoid this scenario to meaningfully deploy CCS at scale. Although they acknowledge that certain geological settings are ideally suited to secure sequestration of CO2, such as in the case of the Sleipner project in Norway (which features a highly porous and permeable reservoir consisting of weak, poorly cemented sandstone that is laterally extensive), they then extrapolate that not enough sites like Sleipner can be found around the U.S. to house the necessary volumes of CO2 to mitigate climate change. This extrapolation is based on speculation and comes with no scientific justification. The authors do not study the potential for sites like Sleipner – i.e. with sufficient porosity and permeability to accommodate injected CO2 without giving rise to unacceptable stresses – to be found around the country. This can only be done with a rigorous geologic assessment, and there is no evidence to suggest that such sites cannot be found in sufficient numbers.

Not all sequestration sites need to be slam-dunk cases with porosity and permeability like Sleipner’s in order to safely accommodate CO2. Of course – wouldn’t it be nice if things were ideal everywhere, but a wide range of geological settings can also accommodate CO2 safely without causing unacceptable seismicity risk. The regulation of maximum allowable pressure, evaluation of seismic risk, and of the conditions in which transmissive faults would threaten groundwater is central to Federal regulations under the Underground Injection Control Program. Industry and regulators should take note, however: even though smaller earthquakes caused by injection may cause no physical damage or human harm, the public may reject the idea of CO2 injection if these quakes and perceptible.

Zoback and Gorelick’s assertions were met with skepticism by expert scientists. Sally Benson (Stanford professor of Energy Resources Engineering and Director of Stanford's Global Climate and Energy Project, and Lead Coordinating Author of the Underground Geological Storage Chapter in the IPCC Special Report on CCS) said “of course, you need to pick sites carefully, but finding these kinds of locations does not seem infeasible”. I think Rob Finley hit the nail on the head when he compared Zoback and Gorelick's analysis to early criticisms of the Wright brothers and the notion at the time that airplanes would never work at scale. Rob is the principal investigator of the Midwest Geological Sequestration Consortium, which is now operating a large CO2 injection project in Decatur, Illinois, and has spent considerable time and money investigating the geology of the Illinois Basin. Julio Friedmann at Lawrence Livermore National Lab points out that “[b]y 2020, we're going to have somewhere between 15 and 20 projects around the world. That will be a good time to assess what we've learned and whether [CCS] can be scaled up more.” The last in the series of international conferences on the subject attracted 1,500 people. None of them appear to have voiced the seeming impossibilities for CCS that Zoback and Gorelick describe in their “Perspective”.

Should we therefore be alarmed by the prospect of CO2 injection in terms of earthquakes? My view is “no” – we should however be vigilant. Improperly conducted CCS does have the potential to cause earthquakes, due to the volumes of CO2 injected. But preventing and predicting these is within our capabilities. Avoiding the large ones is straightforward. It is worth noting that large natural earthquakes have not compromised the storage security in natural and man-made sites that trap CO2 and hydrocarbons. This does not mean, of course, that we should tolerate CCS projects that could cause earthquakes. Avoiding smaller quakes that may not cause harm but may alarm the public and local communities will require will careful site operation and regulation. And that can and must be done. Regulators and prospective injectors, do your homework.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

[1] See Class VI regulations: 40 C.F.R. § 146.82(a)(1)(iii)(v)

[2]The technically minded among you may wish to read on… It is an established concept in rock mechanics that application of shear stress to a fracture will result in dilatancy (opening of the fracture).  The amount of dilatancydepends on many factors, including the magnitude of the stress applied normal to the fracture, the strength of the rock, roughness of the surfaces of the fracture, and what kind of material is present in the fracture. If a fracture dilates, its permeability can increase.  Granite is at one end of the spectrum of possible outcomes. It is strong, and fractures are often rough, so permeability increases can be large.  At the other end of the spectrum are soft shales where dilatancy can be much smaller, or even negligible. Active faults, which see relative movement over geologic time, are filled with all sorts of materials representing a spectrum of hydraulic properties.  But, often, they are filled with "gouge", which is essentially clay, which can sustain large shear movement without large dilatancy.

[3]JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 114, B05409, 18 PP., 2009, doi:10.1029/2008JB006089.

[4]Nordbotten, J. M., M. A. Celia, and S. Bachu (2004), Analytical solutions for leakage rates through abandoned wells, Water Resour. Res., 40, W04204, doi:10.1029/2003WR002997.

Seismic Risk Won't Threaten the Viability of Geologic Carbon Storage


Note: This post is written by Bruce Hill, Ph.D., Senior Geologist with the Clean Air Task Force.

Dr. Bruce Hill

This week’s rumblings against carbon capture and storage (CCS) as a powerful means to mitigate global climate change come not from any natural geological source, but solely from an opinion piece published in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) Perspectives. Despite the arguments of two Stanford geophysicists, however, there is plenty of countervailing scientific evidence that CO2 from U.S. fossil power plants can be captured and safely stored. While the opinion piece rightly raises the importance of rigorous site selection and site characterization for commercial scale storage, it falls far short in its analysis of the overall feasibility of storing commercial volumes of CO2.  Here’s why:


By analogy with recently experienced earthquakes resulting from brine injections, the authors attempt to cast doubt on the feasibility of large-scale geologic storage of carbon dioxide captured from industrial sources by pointing to the role of CO2 pressure buildup in the hosting formations in their potential to induce earthquakes and resulting fractures and faults. Their concern is not about the impacts of tremors nor large scale earthquakes that would let CO2 rush out, but instead, about the possibility that the induced seismicity could be accompanied by small scale fracturing that could migrate upwards and compromise the integrity of an overlying geologic seal.


What the article does not say is that for a brittle fault or fracture zone to reach the surface it would take crossing thousands of feet of rock and shale layers that may very well, in the process, accommodate the upwardly propagating stress like a plastic substance bending like taffy --instead of fracturing.  It also does not address the rate at which any CO2 affected by such small scale fracturing might migrate over time, and whether those volumes would be significant over the time scales necessary to combat global warming. Moreover, according to MIT geoscientist Ruben Juanes, there are no models or data that can predict seismicity from large-scale CO2 injections. Furthermore, CO2 injection technology is hardly new.  Approximately 1 billion tons of CO2 have been safely injected (and stored) in the process of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) in the U.S. since the late 1970s, with no reported seismic incidents.  In fact, there have been no earthquakes reported anywhere from saline CO2 injections either, according to the June 15 NAS report (Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies).


In the opinion piece, the authors paint, with a broad brush, a scenario of limited storage capacity for power plant CO2 generated in the Midwest's Illinois Basin--the U.S. locus of coal power generation. In their rush to judgment, the authors overlook numerous storage strategies that would complement local and regional storage in the Midwest:

  • Their contention is based on the unrepresentative example of the AEP Mountaineer pilot CCS project in West Virginia, combined with computer modeling of the Illinois basin done in 2009 by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory undertaken for a purpose other than to predict seismicity. The poor injectivity encountered in the Mountaineer project is not representative of the geology of the Mt. Simon Formation across the entire Illinois Basin. A better example is the continuing success at the ADM project underway presently in Decatur, Illinois.
  • An understanding of the three-dimensional subsurface geology is critical. In the Illinois Basin, there are other formations that have the potential to simultaneously store CO2. The University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology Gulf Coast Carbon Center, has been investigating stacked storage in combination with EOR in brine formations below producing zones in Mississippi. Tight formations with low permeability and multiple seals above the Mount Simon Formation provide an additional layer of security.
  • Carbon dioxide can and will be pipelined to the Gulf Coast and Texas’ Permian Basin for enhanced oil recovery. Plans are underway for an extension CO2 pipeline that will extend Denbury Resources' existing "Green Pipeline" up into southern Illinois to tap into anthropogenic sources of CO2.  A 2011 NETL study suggests next-generation EOR in depleted US oilfields can accommodate an additional 20 billion tons of CO2.
  • Pipelines could also carry CO2 to other formations in the offshore Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts where there are an estimated 500 billion to 7.5 trillion tons of storage capacity, according to DOE.
  • CO2 pipeline build-out has been studied by the research group Battelle for several international climate mitigation scenarios and suggests that the pace would be reasonable.  ARI, an energy resources consulting firm, estimates that three 800-mile pipelines could accommodate the CO2 from Midwest power plants for 30 years.
  • Brine water production and reinjection into other formations can relieve formation pressures that could potentially lead to rock failure.


Taken together, the weight of evidence suggests that CCS technology is viable and that a combination of storage options will provide capacity for large volumes of captured CO2. Whether all the carbon dioxide emitted by industrial activities in the U.S. and around the world can be captured and stored remains to be seen, but CCS is viable and has an essential important role to play in reducing greenhouse gases.

With numerous small-scale CO2 injections and four decades of EOR under our belt, now is the time to invest in the understanding of large-scale geologic storage, rather than abandon it.




WRI Launches New CCS Regulatory Matrix


Note: This is a cross-posting that originally appeared on the WRI Insights blog April 20, 2012.  Guest Author is Sarah Forbes with WRI, with co-author Viviane Romeiro.

WRI has recently launched a new online tool that compares Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) regulations, standards, and best practice guidelines.

Industry has been exploring CCS as an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants for several years, but so far it remains at a demonstration level. To reach the next stage of deployment, it must be tried at scale on different types of power or other industrial plants, and in different geographic regions using suitable geologic reservoirs. Currently, there are 74 projects in process, of which only eight are operational, according to the Global CCS Institute. With a lack of strong carbon policies, along with a range of other issues outlined below, CCS has lost momentum in recent years and demonstration projects are proving hard to see through.

The table below provides a snapshot of why CCS projects worldwide are being postponed or cancelled.

CostRate payers are unable to assume an increased cost of electricity; Industry or industry shareholders might describe this as an inability to pass on the cost of the demonstration to the rate payers.US: Mountaineer (American Electric Power)

Failure to raise the necessary cost share for construction and/or operation and maintenance. US: FutureGen 1.0 (companies involved in project withdrew)

The project operator wants the period of liability after CO2 storage site closure reduced from 30 to 20 years.Germany: Jänschwalde (Vattenfall)
TechnicalSite lacks the necessary geologic properties to ensure secure storage or to accommodate the volume of CO2 planned.Australia: Kwinana (Hydrogen Energy)

Timing of development of geologic storage site does not match with timing and plans for CO2 capture at the industrial facility.Possible projects in North Sea
Opposition or lack of support from the local community.See Guidelines for Community Engagement for best practices for government, communities and industry in engaging those who may be affected by a CCS project.The Netherlands: Barendrecht (Shell)
Lack of government funding Not commercially viable without public backing.UK: Longannet Power Station (Scottish Power, Royal Dutch Shell and National Grid)

However, there are some demonstrations that are moving forward, especially where related regulations are in place. If CCS projects do move forward, it will be important to ensure that environmental, health and safety regulations are in place to protect people, ecosystems and underground drinking water.

Last week, the British Government announced a new investment for CCS of more than £1 billion (or U.S. $1.59 billion) in public funds to design the first workable demonstration project in the UK. This could signal ongoing international engagement in CCS deployment. If CCS regains its momentum, it will be important to ensure that CCS guidelines and regulatory frameworks are in place to scale up projects, while protecting the environment and communities involved.

In developing appropriate regulations, it is essential to get the details right. WRI has developed a list of key criteria that should influence the outcome of CCS projects from social and environmental perspectives. We then analyzed some of the most well-developed international regulations according to how they’ve addressed these issues. The result of this work is available in the new online regulatory matrix.

The CCS Regulatory Matrix

The tool is designed to enable decision-makers (regulators, lawmakers, or industry representatives) to quickly see how different frameworks deal with key issues, like site selection, characterization requirements and long-term liability.

The matrix includes comparisons drawn from the following frameworks:

The matrix is designed to allow a user to select a regulatory framework or set of guidelines and compare it with another. So, for example, you can look at the E.U. Directive 2009/31/EC and EPA’s Class VI Regulations, and quickly scrutinize the language in the regulations to see how they dealt with a specific CCS issue.

Over time, we plan to update the matrix to include other national regulations, such as the Australian Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, and international best practice standards, such as the Canadian Standard Association on Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide CSA Z741-11(a final version is expected Summer 2012).

By highlighting the similarities and differences among frameworks, we hope to help define how CCS regulations can be improved and provide transparent, easy-to-access information regarding existing regulations. It is important to note that the tool is not an attempt to foster CCS deployment. Instead, it aims to provide information that drives the development of good regulatory frameworks for CCS, which we have identified as a necessary requirement for demonstrations.

Finally, the matrix is a dynamic tool, and we want it to evolve with the changing regulatory landscape. We welcome comments or feedback that will improve our analysis.

EPA's New Power Plant Rule: How Does It Affect Coal-Fired Power Generation?


Note: This is a cross-posting that originally appeared on the NRDC Switchboard blog March 27, 2012. Guest Author is George Peridas, with Natural Resources Defense Council.

Today EPA proposed its Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants. The proposal sets a performance standard that new plants will need to meet. Existing coal-fired generation accounts for the largest chunk of carbon dioxide pollution emitted by stationary sources in the US, which is roughly on a par with the carbon dioxide pollution emitted by the entire transportation sector. For more context and background on the rule, see recent posts by Frances Beinecke and David Doniger.

What does the new standard for the kinds of power plants that can be constructed in the future? In particular, where does it leave new coal plants? The answer is that the proposed new source standard is technology neutral. It does not specify directly or indirectly what technologies generators can choose to invest in, nor does it ban the use of coal in new power plants. It does effectively necessitate the use of modern technology if coal plants are to meet the standard though.

Investing in a new coal-fired power plant these days is not an attractive option in general, for reasons quite apart from the NSPS. Back in 2007, 150 or so new coal plants were proposed around the nation. Today, the vast majority of these proposals has been cancelled or been put on indefinite hold due to a multitude of factors (see here). The high capital cost of coal-fired power plants in a weak economy, combined with investor concerns about exposure to carbon emissions legislation make these plants unattractive, and this has been widely documented in proceedings and statements by many utility officials. Furthermore, the recent drop in natural gas prices has allowed combined cycle natural gas plants to beat some coal plants on price at the margin (see EIA Monthly Electricity Update, Dec2011), while coal's share of electricity generation has dropped from nearly 50% in 2007 to 45% in 2010, according to the EIA, even falling below 40% during the unusually warm months of Nov/Dec2011.

The proposed new  emissions rate that facilities need to achieve is 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted per megawatt-hour of electricity produced (on a gross basis). This is a standard that new combined cycle natural gas plants are able to meet easily, since their emission rates are in the region of 800lb CO2/MWh or below. Simple cycle natural gas peakers (gas turbines) would likely not meet the standard, since their emission rate is in the region of 1300lb CO2/MWh, but this type of plant is explicitly excluded from the rule. As for coal, the standard means that a new plant would have to capture and sequester a moderate amount of its CO2 emissions: a new supercritical pulverized coal plant would emit in the region of 1600-1800lb CO2/MWh (see here), which means that even when the parasitic load for capture, transport and sequestration is factored in, the required percentage of capture is well below the technical potential of over 90%.

If someone is hell-bent on building a new coal plant despite the economic and financing challenges, the new source standard will allow that if the plant captures and sequesters a portion of its CO2 emissions. This is not just an option on paper – it’s an option that developers have in practice, if future economics justify it. Capture and sequestration is a technological reality today at the scale needed for new coal plants. In addition to numerous non-power projects that are capturing and/or sequestering CO2 successfully around the world (for a list see databases and maps by the Global CCS Institute and ZERO), coal plants with capture and sequestration are under construction or nearing financial close in the US. These include the Kemper County IGCC plant in Mississippi by Mississippi Power (a subsidiary of Southern Company) and the Texas Clean Energy Project by Summit power Group. The former, although it has been entangled in litigation in relation to the PUC proceedings that authorized cost pass-through, clearly shows that such a plant is technically feasible today. The latter, having obtained all its permits, is planning to begin construction soon when the financing arrangements are in place.

From a regulatory standpoint, all the pieces are in place to permit a capture and sequestration project today. Siting the capture and transportation infrastructure is fundamentally the same as standard power plant and pipeline siting. For the sequestration part, EPA promulgated a new injection well class (Class VI) under the Underground Injection Control Program in December, 2010, specifically tailored for the geologic sequestration of CO2. The Class VI rule is final, and obtaining permits is now a clearly defined process.

The proposed standard therefore simply aims to move any new coal plant proposals away from the technology paradigm of our grandfathers and up to date with today’s achievable pollution standards in a feasible and realistic way.