Sounds more like the trailer for the new Ryan Reynolds flick than an energy-saving scheme, but that’s exactly what a Massachusetts coal plant is proposing for its fossil fuel emissions: To bury them, forever.
At the bottom of the ocean.
Sound sketchy? On first blush, yes. But read on … so-called carbon dioxide sequestration could be a wave of the future.
Given the hullaballoo raised whenever a new power-generating plant announces its opening, SCS Energy in Concord, Massachusetts, is trying to get ahead of criticism that its emissions will add to already high CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The company’s goal is to separate the carbon dioxide from the burned coal and pump it as liquefied gas 138 miles away to a site one and a half miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean—where it will be … buried forever ….
The company owns a pair of wells 70 miles east of Atlantic City where it would pump the CO2, and then mix it into the multiple layers of shale and sandstone on the ocean floor. Spokesmen for the company insist that a combination of temperature and pressure will keep the pollutants lodged below sea level and that the deposit will be “safe and permanent.”
As the U.S. edges toward a system that taxes carbon emissions, already in place in Norway, some carbon storage plans might be another way for companies to reduce taxes. Plans are proceeding slowly though; SCS still needs approval from the Department of the Interior to drill and the Environmental Protection Agency to build the coal plant and lay the pipeline.
An initial downside to carbon capture is it adds cost to creating energy, thus raising prices.
Given that power plants are the largest contributors to global warming and ocean acidification, any company looking for new alternatives (including wind, solar and geothermal) is to be applauded. Carbon sequestration is already working at sites in Norway, Algeria and the Barents Sea.
On October 1, the Department of Energy announced a $1 billion deal to help fund the development of what it calls FutureGen 2.0, the world’s first full-scale oxy-combustion power plant incorporating permanent carbon dioxide capture and storage. Pursued in conjunction with energy giants Air Liquide and the Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group, the project is designed to capture and store approximately 1.3 million tons of CO2 each year, or 90 percent of the new plant’s emissions.
Of course, some people who live near the proposed New Jersey burial site (off Monmouth and Ocean counties) are not wild about the plan. Could a future accident create a BP-like mess up and down the Jersey shoreline?
Rutgers University geologist Paul Falkowski is for it, suggesting the reservoir SCS is targeting is “stable” and will be for “many thousands of years.”
But Tim Dillingham, spokesman for the American Littoral Society, worries that the deep burial is just another example of man using the ocean as “a waste disposal pit.”
“To draw the conclusion that this is a benign industry is as yet unproven,” he says, concerned that burying more carbon dioxide in the ocean, albeit beneath rock, could add to ocean acidification, already an out-of-control problem.
With time growing short, every new potential technology for keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere must be tested in order to slow global warming.
Burying the problem may be one piece of the puzzle.