Rising debate over carbon sequestration: should we bury CO2?

Geologists defend carbon capture and sequestration after the author of a recent study calls the premise for the technology "totally erroneous."
Written by Melissa Mahony, Contributor

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) could be one of few potentially viable answers to how we can keep burning fossil fuels without the carbon dioxide consequences.

CCS entails chemically separating CO2 from emissions and burying the greenhouse gas underground. The technology is very expensive, but many see it as a way to wean us off coal as we move toward more fully relying on renewable energies.

Researchers from the University of Houston and Texas A&M, however, recently published a study in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering questioning whether CSS would be possible on a large scale.

Quoted in The Guardian on Sunday, co-author Michael Economides:

I was a [practising] petroleum engineer for many years and soon realised that geologists did not understand flow and the laws of physics, against which you can't argue.

Economides likens piping CO2 underground to putting a bicycle pump nozzle against a wall, saying the gas will eventually escape and find its way to the atmosphere. Geologists disagree. They cite years of research and test cases, such as the Sleipner Project in Norway that has been storing CO2 beneath the North Sea for a decade.

The paper is fueling scientific as well as political spats as governments begin to invest more heavily in CSS technology.

In October, American Electric's Mountaineer Power Plant became the first to test CSS in the United States. The FutureGen project in Illinois, however, would be our country's first plant to assess the technology at the commercial scale. Earlier this year, Britain proposed four CSS projects as a way to accommodate new coal-fire power plants.

Economides, who also admits he is somewhat of a climate change skeptic, views the projects as the fossil fuel industry's scheme to not change their ways, calling CCS "the last refuge of the scoundrel." With estimates that CSS would initially increase an energy plants costs by around a $1 billion, that would be a pricey scheme.

The British Geological Survey has placed the study under its own peer-review analysis and hopes to respond soon.

In a 2008 BBC interview, BGS's Mike Stephenson describes in the video below how carbon sequestration is taking place under the North Sea.

Images: Mountaineer Power Plant/American Electric

[via Reuters]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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