The California report examines the greenhouse gas extraction

The general public may be mostly in the dark about carbon capture and storage, but California’s increasing focus on greenhouse gas emissions is beginning to shed more light on the subject.

Among other things, a recent report titled “Findings and Recommendations by the California Carbon Capture and Storage Review Panel” mentions the prospect of using eminent domain to acquire suitable sites for storing carbon dioxide and other gases underground, or transporting compressed C02 in pipelines. Regardless of global warming, the public climate for the use of eminent domain to take private property for public purposes appears cool at best, meaning any such moves are likely to be controversial.

The report also notes that in the past, the “statistical reality” has been “that people who inhabit the most polluted environments are commonly people of color and the poor,” which could lead to new concerns and conflicts if greenhouse gas storage or transmission facilities end up being developed in or near poorer communities.

Although costs are expected to come down in the future, carbon capture and storage development already requires government incentives, the report says, and more will be needed. The use of carbon capture and storage technologies also will raise the cost of generating electricity, increasing the cost-effectiveness of solar and other renewable sources.

However, even very rapid expansion of renewable generation is not going to eliminate the need to burn fossil fuels for energy for a long time to come, and carbon capture and storage is likely to be an important part of the picture for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the panel reported.

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, also known as AB 32, calls for the state to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. An executive order signed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger stipulates that by 2050, when the Earth’s population is expected to peak at about 9 billion people, greenhouse gas emissions be cut to 80 percent below 1990 levels.

While the amount of energy produced by renewable resources is rising, “fossil fuels, including oil for transportation and natural gas for electricity production, will constitute a substantial component of California’s emissions for some time to come,” the report said. “In order to utilize fossil fuels and meet the 2050 GHG emissions reduction goal, it will be necessary to deploy additional technologies. Carbon capture and storage is a technology that may need to be deployed on a significant scale to curb CO2 emissions from power plants and industrial sources.”

CCS is a necessary tool
to address climate change
and reduce emissions
during the transition
to non-emitting
sources of energy
over the coming decades.

Michael R. Peevey
California Public
Utilities Commission

The panel was established in 2010 by the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission, and the California Air Resources Board. It consists of officials from industry, trade groups, academia and environmental organizations.

Carbon capture and storage involves collecting gases created by combustion before they are released into the atmosphere, compressing them and delivering them to a geological storage site, where they can be injected into structures such as salt caverns, limestone caves or other porous rock formations.

The idea is that these gases will be stored safely underground for 1,000 years or more. The report cites a “substantial body of evidence, knowledge and peer-reviewed literature on the subject,” which suggests that at least 99 percent of properly stored and managed C02 is likely to remain trapped for at least a millennium, and possibly for millions of years. The report notes that very long-term monitoring could be problematic, but suggests that performance standards could be designed with the expectation of permanence and safety.

A memorandum to the report describes sample amendments that could be used to extend condemnation proceedings to prospective carbon sequestration sites, but says that any such legislation “should be approached with caution due to the public interests and sensitivities.”

The report also notes that there are as yet no ownership rules governing the use of subsurface “pore space” for greenhouse gas storage under privately owned or state lands. It says that  “carbon sequestration cannot occur absent the right to inject and store C02. Therefore, in order for carbon sequestration to play a role in achieving California’s climate goals, ownership of pore space rights needs to be clarified and statutory procedures need to be established for the acquisition of pore space rights.”

Another issue is long-term stewardship and liability; few companies have lasted for 100 years or more, and far fewer companies, or governments, have lasted 1,000 years. Risks are expected to be highest when gases are first injected underground and pressures are at their peak, the report says. “Because C02 must stay permanently stored, it is widely considered prudent from an environmental and public safety perspective to task a governmental entity with site stewardship obligations commencing with the post-closure phase,” it says. An industry-supported trust fund is one possible way to account for long-term liability, it adds.

The report also addresses the topic of “environmental justice,” saying, “Poorer communities, which often co-exist in proximity to facilities that have historically had negative environmental impacts, can be in line to host more of these types of facilities. Studies of these communities have shown that they exhibit higher levels of illness, disease, and premature deaths than do other areas.”

It says that such concerns “often pertain to large industrial facilities such as power plants, refineries, cement plants, chemical plants, as well as truck and ship traffic, and issues associated with dumping and incineration sites. Fossil fuels figure significantly in EJ concerns because of impacts to air, land, and water associated with their extraction or production, the emissions from their refining and combustion, and their waste byproducts (e.g., coal ash and petroleum coke). EJ activists advocate moving away from the extraction and use of fossil fuels, and transitioning to sustainable alternatives.”

The report recommends that the state adopt a “policy that the burdens and benefits of CCS be shared equally among all Californians. Toward this end, the permitting authority shall endeavor to reduce, as much as possible, any disparate impacts to residents of any particular geographic area or any particular socio-economic class.”

The panel found that without new initiatives, “economic barriers to early CCS deployment will delay the technological learning needed to drive down the costs.” It recommended that regulatory authorities establish mechanisms to spread the costs “as broadly as possible across all Californians.” It said the state should evaluate a variety of incentives to promote the development of lower-cost carbon capture and storage methods.

Officials from the state agencies that set up the panel approved of the report.

“It is essential that as we move towards reaching the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, every viable technology is considered,” said James Boyd, vice chairman of the California Energy Commission, in a news release. “We are extremely grateful to the members of the review panel who freely gave their time and expertise to evaluate carbon capture and storage as part of the solution to climate change.”

Michael R. Peevey, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said, “This is an important first step in providing the pathway for geologic carbon sequestration projects in California while ensuring safety and proper stewardship for our natural resources. CCS is a necessary tool to address climate change and reduce emissions during the transition to non-emitting sources of energy over the coming decades.”

Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the Air Resources Board, said, “Carbon capture and storage shows promise as a climate change mitigation strategy, and the review panel findings identified important next steps, including development of methods for emissions monitoring, verification and reporting.”

The Carbon Capture and Storage Review Panel Report and the supporting technical documents are available from the state’s Climate Change Portal at:

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