Archive for April, 2007

In an 8 February 2007 entry, I discussed Maryland’s study of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Maryland’s 2006 Healthy Air Act required the state to become a full member of RGGI by June 2007. At the time, Maryland participated only as an observing state. Now Maryland is a full member of RGGI, and will participate in the cap and trade scheme. Emissions trading will initially be limited to electricity generation plants.

Maryland’s governor O’Malley also signed an executive order establishing a Maryland Commission in Climate Change. The Commission is charged with developing a plan to address the drivers and causes of climate change and prepare for the likely consequences and impacts of climate change.

One thing that strikes me from the report by the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Environmental Research is how little will actually change by joining RGGI. The study predicted that Maryland might reduce CO2 emissions by 10%. The reduction will have only a minor effect on generation however. Coal units can expect slightly lower profits; gas units will have somewhat higher profits. Energy efficiency and electricity imports will make up any difference in demand. There appears to be no anticipated role for different generation technologies.


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U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson will face Barbara Boxer and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today. The Senate Committee members are keen to explore the implications of the recent Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA. In a statement prepared for the hearings, Johnson made it clear that EPA is exploring its options to delay any action until the next administration. Johnson wrote that EPA still has “significant latitude” to determine whether or not new rules are needed. He further stated that:

While EPA explores options in response to the recent Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, we will continue to implement the initiatives that have proven effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and which form an integral component of the President’s comprehensive strategy to address climate change.

Importantly, the Court did not hold that EPA was required to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under section 202, or any other section, of the Clean Air Act.

Importantly, the Court’s decision explicitly left open the issue of whether EPA can consider policy considerations when writing regulations in the event EPA were to make an endangerment finding.

Statements like this will not go unchallenged in the hearings. Nor will the rest of the 19 pages of the statement that list the administration’s “aggressive steps to tackle climate change.” Here is a piece on the results of EPA’s “aggressive steps” http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2007/04/17/us-emissions-up-epa-calls-that-results/.

One of those “aggressive steps” is carbon capture and storage. Johnson stated that:

The Administration is investigating the prospects for carbon dioxide capture from power plants and other industrial sources and long-term storage in geologic formations. EPA’s role consists in ensuring that carbon capture and storage is developed and deployed in a manner that safeguards the environment. We are currently focusing our efforts on two fronts: (1) partnering with public and private stakeholders to develop an understanding of the environmental aspects of carbon capture and storage that must be addressed for the necessary technologies to become a viable strategy for reducing greenhouse gases; and (2) ensuring carbon dioxide storage is conducted in a manner that protects underground sources of drinking water, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held hearings on 16 April 2007 to discuss Senate Bill 731 “National Carbon Dioxide Storage Capacity Assessment Act of 2007” and Senate Bill 962 “DOE Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 2007”. Both bills aim to expedite federal research and demonstration projects. S. 731 would require the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to develop a peer-reviewed methodology, and then to complete a national assessment of geologic storage capacity for CO2. S. 962 would amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to reauthorize and improve DOE’s carbon capture and storage (CCS) research, development, and demonstration program (and to add the word storage, which is not in the original legislation). The bill calls for at least seven large-scale regional projects focused on injection and monitoring.

The two main issues discussed during the hearings were the timing of CCS implementation and long-term liability. The timing of implementation of CCS at a commercial scale was somewhat contentious. Tom Shope, the Acting Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy at DOE, explained the time line for CCS research and development. A bit of background is in order. DOE is currently conducting CCS research as part of its Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships. The research is being done in three phases. Phase 1 has been completed. It focused on characterization of carbon sinks and storage reservoirs. Phase 2 is under way. Phase 2 is aimed at validating the characterization of Phase 1. This is being done through 25 field tests throughout the U.S. and Canada. Phase 3 is meant to involve large-scale deployment of CCS technologies. Phase 3 was going to begin in 2008, but is now being pushed forward to this year. This research will then flow into the FutureGen project.

So far so good. But then the committee members heard that commercial CCS projects might be underway by 2012 with widespread commercial implementation by around 2045. Senator Bingaman (Committee Chair, D-NM) was not pleased. How many current Senators will be around in 2045? David Hawkins, Director the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Climate Center pointed out that DOE’s projections were based on the assumption there would be no changes in current climate change policy. Hawkins also reminded the committee members that if changes are not made soon new coal plants forecast to be built in the next 25 years will emit 30% more CO2 in their operating lives than has been released from all prior human use of coal. I think there will be more pressure to expedite the implementation of CCS.

The consensus of everyone at the hearing was that the issue of liability could be an obstacle to large-scale development of CCS. Liability is a concern because of the scale of implementation that will be needed to significantly reduce CO2 emissions, and due to the geologic time scales necessary for storage to effectively sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. Tom Shope stated that liability for large-scale demonstration projects is “a very significant issue”, but that DOE was reluctant to suggest that the federal government assume liability for leakage of CO2. He also noted that DOE was already having discussions with insurance carriers. Kipp Coddington, a partner at Alston & Bird, was not reluctant to suggest the federal government assume liability. He pointed out the Texas and Illinois have passed state laws that would assume liability (to bolster their bids for the FutureGen project). One thing Coddington did not mention is whether or not the states might still attempt to claim sovereign immunity in a claim for damages from a CO2 leak. Hawkins of NRDC stated that, based on statements made by state officials, he thought Texas probably would invoke sovereign immunity.

Are you wondering why Hawkins, representing NRDC, would support CCS, which would lead to continued fossil fuel use? He explained that NRDC’s research suggests that immediate implementation of CCS, even with some leakage, would result in lower CO2 emissions than delayed deployment. He admitted that while NRDC advocates the use of renewable sources of energy, there are plans to build more than 3000 coal-fired electricity generation units. If these are built without CCS, then we will be committed to at least 60 more years of CO2 emissions. Moreover, Hawkins emphasized that the issue of liability might not be as detrimental as some expect. What about liability for the 100% leakage rate of current power plants?

I want to say more on this topic, but this is enough for today. Any comments?

Here are some other commentaries:



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The UN’s Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development recently released a report–Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable. The report recommends carbon capture and storage (CCS) among its mitigation options. The authors take a pragmatic approach, noting that about 80% of the energy in developed countries comes fossil fuels, that there is a high amount of capital invested on fossil fuel infrastructure, and that there is a slow turnover in these facilities. Given these constraints on immediate replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy, the report considers carbon capture and sequestration in deep geological formation an attractive climate change mitigation option in the near term. The report points out that the potential of CCS depends on sequestration capacities, carbon price signals, leak rates, and public acceptance.

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NOAA’s Carbon Tracker calculates CO2 uptake and release at the earth’s surface over time. The Carbon Tracker provides information about how sinks (ecosystems & the ocean) are responding to increasing amounts of

atmospheric CO2. It may also be useful for quantifying anthropogenic emissions at a regional scale, serving as an independent check on emissions accounting. If more observations can be added to the network, it could become a robust tool for policymakers as well as scientists.


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ConocoPhillips has been in the headlines recently because CEO Jim Mulva announced that the federal government should impose mandatory limits on GHG emissions. Most news stories mention that ConocoPhillips is joining the U.S. Climate Change Partnership (USCAP). This is a good opportunity to examine the goals and recommendations of USCAP.

USCAP is made up of manufacturing and energy companies along with environmental groups, including BP, Duke, FPL, PG&E, PNM Resources, Environmental Defense, NRDC, and WRI.

A Call to Action” lays out USCAP’s plan. The main goal is to prompt enactment of national legislation in the U.S. to slow, stop, and reverse the growth of GHG emissions over the shortest period of time reasonably achievable. Behind this goal is an interest in having input into the drafting of such legislation. The six principles laid out in “A Call to Action” make clear the aspirations of the companies involved: (1) account for the global dimensions of climate change; (2) recognize the importance of technology; (3) be environmentally effective; (4) create economic opportunity and advantage; (5) be fair; and (6) reward early actors.

Some of the specific recommendations relate to carbon capture and storage (CCS). USCAP calls for stabilizing atmospheric GHG concentrations at 450-550 ppm in the long term. The members state that cap and trade is essential. In particular, they recommend economy wide caps with a significant portion of allowances initially distributed free to capped entities. In regard to CCS, USCAP urges Congress to instruct EPA to permit long term geological sequestration. In addition, Congress should fund at least three full scale geologic sequestration projects.

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The Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) has drilled a 2200 m well for its geologic CO2 sequestration pilot project at Nirranda, Victoria. CO2CRC plans to inject up to 100,000 tonnes of CO2 obtained from a natural reservoir into the Otway Basin. Landowners (144 of them) within a 5 km radius have been contacted, and a community meeting is scheduled for May.

An interesting aspect of this project is the research into the deep subsurface biosphere. Researchers are looking into novel topics such as the existence and diversity of nanoorganisms (nanobes) and the conversion of CO2 into methane via methanogenesis. Do any of you know of other researchers studying the deep subsurface biosphere in relation to geologic CO2 sequestration?

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