Time to Give Up on Carbon Capture and Sequestration?

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (or Storage, if you prefer), thankfully shortened to CCS, is often postulated to be one way of reducing emissions. The idea is simple. Capture the CO2 from fossil fuel emissions and store it deep underground. People who haven’t looked at it in depth tend to like it. The Stern Review, a celebrated report on the economics of climate change, considers it “essential”. People who have looked at it in depth do not.

“A two-month-long natural gas leak that has caused local evacuations and Federal Aviation Administration flight restrictions in southern California is highlighting the need to better control methane emissions from United States oil and gas production and storage.

“…The effect of the leak on the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions is comparable to adding 7 million cars to the road, says Timothy O’Connor, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s oil and gas program in California.”

“…The gas is under enormous pressure – some 3,000 pounds per square inch. Southern California Gas initially tried to pump brine down the well in an unsuccessful attempt to counteract that pressure. The company is now drilling the first of two relief wells that must reach more than 8,000 feet below the surface to allow workers to seal off the leaking well.  The second well, which the company has said it plans to begin sinking next month, is a backup. If all goes well, the relief well should be finished by March or April, the company estimates.”

CCS is an expensive way to prevent carbon from being emitted. It is also energy intensive. Outside of a couple of pilot plants, there aren’t many that are up and running commercially. One in Saskatchewan seems to be the exception to the rule.

And what would happen to our atmosphere and indeed our climate if we hid a bunch of CO2 underground and the storage tank leaked?

A lot of the first generation solutions to climate change have proven problematic. Biofuels seem to generate more CO2 than is useful. Wood chips have various problems associated with it as a replacement for coal. Palm oil has triggered deforestation and mass relocation of people. Ethanol from Brazil seems a good idea, but ethanol from the U.S. does not. Offshore wind seems to be about as foolish an idea as possible, expensive, high risk, high maintenance and unsightly.

CCS, with its high costs and higher risks, seems fated to join this list of makeshift answers that were throw at the climate change issue, following the dictum ‘We must do something. This is something. We must do this.’

On the brighter side, that type of plant is ideally suited for use as a movie set for the next Terminator movie. Here are some mice built to the same level of specifications and about as functional.

white elephants


9 responses to “Time to Give Up on Carbon Capture and Sequestration?

  1. The UK government has effectively given up on ccs. They cancelled a £1Bn funding scheme recently.

  2. I doubt if the claim about the impact of the natural gas leak is anything close to correct and is simply more environmental extremist hype.
    This is not a big deal and is a tiny fraction of how much gas leaks into the atmosphere from geological gas seeps.

    The second link is very eye opening. The lack of critical thinking practiced by modern journalists is disgusting.
    Sorry about the long link, by the way.

  3. As to CCS, it is a horrible, expensive, pointless and dangerous idea.
    Pumping CO2, which is corrosive in solution, into the deep underground under high pressure is a really nice way to make the inconvenience the neighborhood impacted by this gas leak is facing trivial in comparison.

    • We don’t have a problem handling liquid co2. To us it’s child’s play. The co2 injection pumps will be limited to 5000 psi, and the injection point should be into a high pressure brine. As it turns out, co2 is very soluble in brine under those conditions. This yields a reservoir fluid which is about 90 % salt water and 10% co2. The problems we face are a bit technical, but corrosion and leakage are easy to handle…with metallurgy, which of course costs money.

      • Fernando, interesting points on the pumps and plumbing, as well as the target formations for CO2 injection. I guess bribes make sense since the ocean is a fabulous CO2 sink. What about the impact of pressurized low pH brine saturated with CO2 on the rocks and matrix holding the brine?

  4. I’ve studied CCS. In much more depth than Stern or his consultants.

    There’s a lot of confusion about it. For example, a CCS concept we found was feasible uses CO2 captured from a gasifier (that’s a gadget we use to make syngas), and ships it to an old oil field where it’s injected for enhanced recovery. I had an engineering team develop a refinement: we had a plant make pure nitrogen and an enriched oxygen stream, used enriched oxygen in the gasifier, and used nitrogen as an injection fluid in a rich gas cap. The co2 was used to displace oil.

    These schemes work because we can use a gasifier, which yields co2 at sufficient pressure, so it’s easier to capture. Plus we can get the extra oil recovery, and can market natural gas being used today as an injection fluid.

    But if we have to move into a different scheme, say a coal gasifier used to make steam to generate electricity, with co2 capture and injection, then costs get out of hand. The co2 is turn into a liquid, and this reduces handling costs (once it gets down to the reservoir level it’s a supercritical fluid). But the disposal costs can be onerous.

    Unlike you, we think the leak issue is bogus. Co2 isn’t flammable, therefore regaining control of a leak is child’s play. The problem with high pressure natural gas is the lightness and flammability, it makes a wonderful fuel air bomb, and burns very nicely. Which means working in that explosive environment takes very special care…..and we take forever to get anything done.

    In the end, the best CCS is done the natural way, such as can be accomplished by fertilizing some sectors in the ocean where there’s sunlight, good mixing for oxygenation, and the critters form nice skeletons or rain down on a sea floor where they’ll get nicely buried. I was thinking of the southern pacific in that area where there’s so much cloud and huge storm waves.

  5. There is a difference between a technology that “works”, and one that is practical & viable.

    The expected 90% (1 million tonnes pa) reduction in CO2 emissions refers to the % of total CO2 emissions captured, but only about a half this CO2 will be permanently stored. The remainder is released into the atmosphere during capturing, and the processing in the associated oil field.

    You mention that CCS is energy intensive (because of the large parasitic load), but that CTV Regina report of the Boundary Dam project omits to mention that the plant which was converted also had to be down-rated by 20%, and, the scheme was over-budget.

    A first 2015 financial analysis by energy lobby group Saskatchewan Community Wind found that the project “generates losses in excess of [Canadian] $1-billion for electricity consumers of Saskatchewan.


  6. ‘We must do something. This is something. We must do this.

    This is exactly the situation. But why?

    I think the reason is in Dunning-Kruger effect, ‘relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it really is’. People who know nothing (and I’m not talking about Fernando Leanme) are very actively supporting memes which they think could affect positively. They don’t have any mental image on how much things cost (and I’m not talking about cost as in money though it is an important special case). So how much CCS increase need of energy? How much more difficult energy production becomes? How much all that cause as a price and lost economic growth? How much lives? These questions are typically difficult to answer, sometimes even the sign of the answer is difficult to define.

    Dunning Kruger is completed with vested interests. If I was solar or hydro ombudsman, I would require CCS because I knew it makes life difficult for my competitor.

  7. How much lives => how many lives [it will cost]

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