CCS has the potential to significantly reduce global carbon emissions.


An NGO Perspective on CCS

by Guest Author on 12/06/12

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.
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  • 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

by Guest Author on 11/12/12

 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

by Guest Author on 10/26/12

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?

by Guest Author on 06/25/12

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

by Guest Author on 06/19/12

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.




About this blog
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.