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Archive for the ‘global warming’ Category

Senator Reid (D-NV) has delayed convening a conference committee on the energy bill at least until after the Columbus Day recess. That means no conferees will be appointed until at least 15 October. The delay has led to talk among some Democrats of avoiding a conference by striking a deal among their leaders in the Senate and House.

Here is a previous post; there is another.

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The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate both passed energy bills this summer: H.R. 3221 in the House (Pelosi) and H.R. 6 in the Senate (Rahall). The bills will now proceed to conference committee to come up with a single piece of legislation to vote on. The members of the conference committee have not yet been chosen. Although there appears to be consensus among members of Congress that an energy bill is desirable, a pair of contentious issues might hold back a new law from being passed this autumn. Beyond other pressing issues such as appropriations, Iraq, and the housing market, differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill present an obstacle to a bill passing. The House version of the bill includes a 15% renewable portfolio standard. A similar provision was blocked in the Senate. The Senate bill has new CAFE standards. The House version does not. Both of these issues are divisive not only between parties, but also among Democrats.

Both versions of the energy bill have CCS provisions. Each contains similar versions of the “Department of Energy Carbon Capture and Storage Research, Development and Demonstration Act of 2007.” Either version would call for at least 7 large-volume sequestration tests (at least 1 million tons annually) and demonstrations of carbon capture technology. The House bill authorizes $560 million in funding over 4 years for the sequestration tests and $720 over 4 years for the capture demonstrations. The House bill has a provision requiring the EPA to establish a research program to determine procedures to protect public health and the environment from the potential effects carbon capture, injection, and sequestration. The House version also includes the “National Carbon Dioxide Storage Capacity Assessment Act of 2007,” which would require the Interior Department to study the national capacity for storing industrial CO2.

There will be more to discuss as this bill moves into conference committee.

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Here is a quotation from the recent edition of Nature (499, 14-15, 6 September 2007):

This last point is really the elephant in the room for coal liquefaction. Because processing a tonne of coal produces much more CO2 than a tonne of crude oil, the environmental case rests on the hazy prospect that the CO2 can be ‘captured’ or sequestered. None of the pilots under construction will achieve that.

“The thing on everybody’s mind is CO2,” admits Kennel. “The community is trying to figure out how to capture it.” Clifford says that concerns about CO2 emissions are preventing major commercial investment in coal liquefaction, and that public money is needed if new plants are to be built.

Sasol claims that the CO2 from its plants is purer than that produced by coal-fired power stations, and it should therefore be easier to liquefy and sequester. But that will be easier said than done. And most people outside the coal industry are sceptical about the economic feasibility of coal liquefaction — even before the large and unknown costs of sequestration and storage are factored in.

With both electricity generation and coal to liquids, the future of coal as a fuel is intimately entangled with carbon sequestration.

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The National Petroleum Council (NPC) recently released a report–Facing the Hard Truths About Energy (executive summary). The report was requested in October of 2005 by Secretary Bodman of the Department of Energy. The hard truths that the NPC articulated are:

  1. Coal, oil, & natural gas are indispensable .
  2. “The world is not running out of energy resources, but there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas.”
  3. Energy independence “is not realistic in the foreseeable future.”
  4. The workforce in the energy industry is aging.
  5. Policies aimed at curbing CO2 emissions will alter the energy mix, increase energy-related costs, and require reductions in demand growth.

The report presents 5 core strategies:

  1. Use energy more efficiently.
  2. Expand and diversify sources of energy.
  3. Integrate energy policy into trade, economic, environmental, security, and foreign policies.
  4. Enhance science and engineering education.
  5. Develop the legal and regulatory framework to enable carbon capture and storage.

There is a lot of blog fodder in the report, but its analysis of carbon capture and storage (CCS) will distract us here. One of the hard truths in the report is that potential CCS activities will require significant new infrastructure. The scale of CCS is also addressed. The report points out that in the U.S. if all CO2 from current coal-fired electricity generation was captured and compressed, it would total 50 million barrels per day (based on an estimate of 150,000 barrels a day of supercritical CO2 per GW). Such a volume would be more than double that of the amount of oil handled daily. The report recommends establishing a legal and regulatory framework conducive to CCS. This should include regulatory clarity for land use and liability, as well as access to federal lands for storage. A national CO2 sequestration capacity assessment is also recommended. The authors suggest that the U.S. encourage global application of CCS.

Beyond endorsing CCS, the broader implication of the report is that even the executives in the oil and gas industry admit that there will be supply problems, and the admission is officially sanctioned. This report has received more attention than the earlier Hirsch Report (also commissioned by DOE). Perhaps due to the realization that other less optimistic reports have been coming out recently, the NPC softened the hard truths a bit and issued a gentler report.

The Peak Oil Caucus (link to a video of a press conference) in Congress, which consists of Bartlett (R-MD) and Udall (D-NM), stated that Secretary Bodman asked the right question, but that the bitter truths were sugar-coated in the answers. Moreover, the Peak Oil Caucus accuses the NPC of avoiding a direct answer to the question of when peak oil would occur. Instead of a “clarion call for action”, the NPC produced “a good report for bureaucrats”. Because of the vague and soft pedaled approach, any position can be read into the NPC’s report, even a justification for business as usual. The Peak Oil Caucus favors a recent IEA report that calls for strong, immediate action.

Perhaps I have spent too much time with bureaucratic and legal distractions. When I read “The world is not running out of energy resources, but there are accumulating risks to continuing expansion of oil and natural gas from the conventional sources relied upon historically.” I immediately realized that this was an admission that fossil fuels would no longer be sufficient for business as usual. As long as the sun shines, the world will have energy resources, so the first clause merely acts as a buffer for the statement “there are accumulating risks”. To a lawyer, that sounds like an admission, but far from a clarion call.

A commentary on The Oil Drum also credits Secretary Bodman for asking the right questions, but suggests that he asked the wrong group. Why not ask the National Academies?

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Several reports of great stature predict the future development of carbon capture and storage (CCS). The IPCC Special Report on Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage (2005), the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (2006) by the British government, and MIT’s The Future of Coal: Options for a Carbon Constrained World (2007) all state that CCS can be employed safely at a large scale. The only gaps in knowledge noted by these reports relate to monitoring and verification, and the only unresolved issues are the development of regulations and long term liability.

Despite positive projections by the experts, some questions remain. An example of general skepticism can be found in the article “Important! Why Carbon Sequestration Won’t Save Us” at treehugger.com. Some of the author’s criticisms of CCS are not likely to be fatal flaws. To be fair though, I don’t think the author claimed to have any expertise. The only source cited was Tim Flannery’s book The Weather Makers, not exactly a treatise on CCS. The author’s broader concern, however, cannot be easily brushed aside. The article voices concern over the possibility that token amounts will be invested in CCS in a effort to buy time for continued investment in coal rather than renewable sources of energy. Whether CCS is practicable, or whether it is a significant distraction, a diversion, or a red herring (but probably not an ignoratio elenchi) is an issue that deserves debate.

Rau and Caldeira have a different concern (“Coal’s Future: Clearing the Air” in Science 4 May 2007). They feel that CCS is prematurely being treated as the most viable of the “clean coal” technologies. They point out that post-combustion chemical or biological uptake of CO2 from the air, combined with conversion of the CO2 into stable chemical forms would avoid some of the drawbacks of CCS. Namely, such forms of CO2 emissions mitigation would avoid the large energy cost of capturing, concentrating, compressing, transporting, and injecting CO2 into the subsurface. In addition, removing CO2 from the air and mineralizing it would be a much more cost effective way to deal with emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

Carbon emissions from coal to liquids facilities are even more problematic, even when carbon is captured during the conversion process. Here is a brief overview.

NRDC presents a policy package aimed at clearing the air. In “No Time Like the Present: NRDC’s Response to MIT’s ‘Future of Coal’ Report”, NRDC advocates CO2 emissions standards for all new power plants. The standards could resemble California’s SB 1368 (2006), which places emissions standards on all electricity providers who contract to sell power in California even if the generation is out-of-state. Alternatively, the standard could be similar to a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Instead of mandating a percentage of all electricity be generated from renewable sources, a low carbon generation standard would only mandate a level of GHG emissions, not the method by which the emissions are avoided. The standard would be set low (perhaps 20%) during the initial period, then gradually increased. Crediting emissions avoidances would be tradable. Thus, electricity providers could meet the standard by investing in renewable electricity generation, coal-fired generation with CCS, removal of CO2 from the air, or by purchasing credits from other firms that made such investments.

NRDC argues that either of these policy packages would initiate competition to determine which of the GHG emissions mitigation technologies are most viable. There would be incentive to either immediately deploy CCS or drop it like it’s hot.

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The last of a trio of summary reports by the IPCC is out. There will be more to discuss in a later blog entry, but for now I want to focus on carbon capture & storage (CCS). The report states that “there is substantial economic potential for the mitigation of global GHG emissions over the coming decades.” In the short term, early application of CCS (e.g. from natural gas processing) will be one part of a mitigation strategy. Before 2030, CCS (for gas, biomass, and coal-fired electricity generation facilities as well as cement, ammonia and iron manufacturing plants) will become a key mitigation option. The IPCC Working Group 3 summarizes the potential of CCS: “CCS in underground geological formations is a new technology with the potential to make an important contribution to mitigation by 2030. Technological, economic and regulatory developments will affect the actual contribution.” In short, possible but not certain.

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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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