The war on carbon sequestration as a tool to combat climate change

Polly Clover realized her son had asthma when he was nine months old. Now 26, he carries an inhaler in his pocket whenever he goes out in Priville, Louisiana, part of Ascension Parish.

“He should have left Ascension very openly,” Clover says, but he did not do so because “this is his home, this is our family, this is our community.”

This church is part of the 85-mile (137-kilometer) gap between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, officially known as the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, commonly known as Cancer Lane. The air quality in the region is very poor in the United States, and in many parts of the corridor, cancer risks are higher than those approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Clover says the air in his habitat is “terrible”, but the large biodiversity – asparagus, eagles, migratory birds, deer, rabbits, fish and crocodiles – is found in the region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands. The environmental lawyer has been working for 30 years to protect the place he loved since childhood.

That’s why she’s wary of anything that could worsen air quality or threaten wildlife – her biggest fear is that the $ 4.5 billion plant designed to capture climate-changing carbon and produce clean hydrogen fuel could actually do more harm to the lake. Mauraphas Basin.

The Blue Hydrogen Power Plant is being built and operated by Air Products and Chemicals, a multinational petrochemical company. The company claims to capture carbon emissions from the air generated during plant production and store them safely underground – this is called carbon capture and storage.

“Sometimes people think you’ve bubble it up at the bottom of the lake,” said Simon Moore, vice president of investor relations, corporate relations and sustainability at Air Products. “You know, it’s a mile below the Earth’s surface, where the geological formation of the rock contains this pore space, which absorbs CO2.”

Still, Clover worries. “I am not a scientist. I am a caring mother, ”he said. “We need to be the best maids in the environment and reduce carbon emissions. Paying them to bed is not the answer.”

Many carbon capture and storage projects have been proposed or are operating across the United States, including Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and California. The companies behind them can successfully remove carbon from the air to reduce pollution, then safely carry the carbon and store it underground – or both.

Oil and gas companies sometimes bank on this new technology to help create new profit centers, such as hydrogen plants, or to extend the life of their fossil fuel facilities.

Carbon capture and storage projects have been gaining traction since Congress approved $ 3.5 billion last year. The Global CCS Institute, a think tank that seeks to advance these projects globally, called it “The largest monetary allocation for CCS in the history of technology.”

In a recent report From the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading scientists have suggested that carbon capture and storage technology should be part of a range of solutions to decarbonize and mitigate climate change. But solar and wind energy and electricity storage are improving faster than carbon capture and storage, they said.

Technology that opposes carbon capture and storage has not been proven and is less effective than alternatives such as solar and wind in decorbonizing the energy sector.

“Carbon capture is workable or impossible,” said Basav Sen, director of climate justice policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, a DC-based progressive think tank based in Washington, DC. Will. “

A study In late 2020, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, found that 80% of the 39 projects that attempted to commercialize carbon capture and storage ended in failure. The study cites technical incompetence as a key factor

But despite the successful use of the technology, many critics argue that these projects pose a threat to the public health of communities that have long been affected by air and water pollution.

First, they said that any project that would extend the life of an existing industrial facility would be detrimental to the environment by prolonging the time it takes to pollute a community, which the IPCC report confirms.

Second, they noted that since carbon capture devices require more energy to operate, it would cause more air pollution because the technology could only capture a portion of the carbon emitted by a facility.

Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a pioneer in carbon capture and storage technology, denied this in an interview with the Associated Press. But he acknowledged that there was a risk in carrying and storing carbon.

In 2020, a pipeline carrying compressed carbon dioxide ruptured in Sardaria, Mississippi, affecting more than 40 people. Get hospitalized and more than 300 leave. The incident has been cited by experts, lawyers and residents living near carbon capture and storage projects.

According to Nikki Reich, director of the Climate and Energy Project for the International Center for Environmental Law, injecting carbon underground for storage will pollute waterways.

More than 500 environmental groups, including the Law Center, have signed an open letter published in the Washington Post. In July 2021, it called carbon capture and storage the “wrong solution”.

In response, the Carbon Capture Alliance, which supports the technology, released its own Letter in August with more than 100 signatures. They pressured Congress to include investment in carbon capture and storage in any future legislation.

Matt Fry, state and regional policy manager for the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based climate and energy think tank, told the AP that technology is essential to achieving climate goals by the middle of the century.

“The potential for a fully carbonated, electrified world is a reality,” Fry said. “But we have to switch to get there. Carbon capture will be needed to address that emission.

At the point of capture, Herzog said, technology poses a “minimal” threat to public health. “There is always a chance of some accidents, but in chemical plants as a whole, (technology) is very harmless,” he added.

However, residents near the proposed projects are concerned.

In California’s Central Valley farmland, Chevron, Microsoft and Schlumberger New Energy are building a facility in Mendota, which converts agricultural waste into carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas, which then mix it with oxygen to produce electricity. Promise to capture 99% carbon from the process.

Chevron said it plans to inject carbon into “deep geological systems near the ground.”

It’s about Nyamin Martinez, who lives in the Valley and is the director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “It’s very worrying for us,” he said. “What does that mean in terms of the risk of drinking water contamination?”

Chevron’s spokesman Creighton Welch said the process they plan to use is secure. “CO2 capture, injection and storage are not new technologies and have been carried out safely for decades,” Welch said.

In Louisiana, clover and other residents fear that carbon capture technology could affect water. Carbon dioxide, which is captured at the Air Products and Chemicals facility, will be stored in important wetlands such as Lake Mauraphas.

Kim Coates, who lives in the northeastern part of the lake, said it is a buffer between the Gulf of Mexico and residents. But he said industrial growth and most recently, hurricanes and tropical storms have wreaked havoc on that ecosystem for generations.

Coates now fears more if carbon is stored under the lake. “We have seen destruction over time with no one anticipating what is going to happen in the future,” he said.

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Follow Drew Castley on Twitter: Trucostly.

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The Associated Press is supported by the Department of Health and Science, Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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