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Carbon capture and storage 'being oversold as a panacea'

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Sunday, April 12, 2009
The Hill Times
Carbon capture and storage of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions is still 12 to 20 years from being commercialized, but it's being oversold as a panacea and a silver bullet. However, it's a waste of taxpayers' money, there are geological risks to storing carbon dioxide underground and the economics "are deadly," say experts and critics who believe the federal government should be investing in other environmental solutions such as renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Jack Century, a Calgary-based retired petroleum, minerals and environmental geologist with more than 50 years of experience in the industry, told The Hill Times last week that carbon capture and storage (CCS) procedures—burying greenhouse gas emissions—could cause induced earthquakes or "micro seismicity" which risk CO2 leakage. He said injecting any gas or liquid into the ground without very carefully studying the geology could become a hazard.

"If you're not careful, you can inject it higher than the natural pressures in the reservoir you're injecting into," he said, noting that if the reservoir is over a fault line or very close to one, it could cause an earthquake. "It isn't just earthquakes that are a problem, but it's when you start injecting fluids into the earth and you don't know what you're doing, you can start small seismic events, we call them micro seismicity and they can cause fractures, and the fractures themselves can interfere with the reservoir and violate the integrity of the reservoir and cause leakage. It doesn't become a hazard in terms of earthquakes but it becomes a hazard in terms of escaping liquids and you don't know where they're going to go."

In his book, Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, author Andrew Nikiforuk says safety issues surrounding CCS has not fully been examined. "Lofty plans to bury 50 per cent of Canada's carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 is a pipe dream," Mr. Nikiforuk said. "The Canadian government wants to hide tar sands pollution deep under the Prairies, in salty aquifers near cities such as Regina and Edmonton. But the drilling of 350,000 oil and gas well sites has made Western Canada one of the most perforated landscapes on Earth. ... Even CCS proponents admit that carbon dioxide injected deep underground could find its way back to the surface after an earthquake or via groundwater channels."

Mr. Nikiforuk is a fierce critic of CCS, saying, "Creating an energy intensive burial system to hide a problem that could be solved by conserving fossil fuels is morally bankrupt. CCS is a last-ditch survival effort that defies economics and shirks logic."

The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that storing one tonne of carbon ranges from U.S.$25 to $115 and the Canadian Library of Parliament estimated in 2006 that it would take 30 per cent more energy produced at coal-fired power plants or oil sands project to capture storage. In addition, Mr. Nikiforuk said in his book that it would cost $10- to $16-billion to inject 20 megatons of carbon into the ground, which is equivalent to the annual tailpipe exhaust of four million vehicles. "The economics of CCS are deadly," he said.

NDP MP Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, Alta.) said "it's a waste of taxpayer money" to invest in CCS. "If it's not a proven technology to safe-keep it, then the public should not be bearing the liability," she said last week. "I'm 100 per cent opposed as is my party, as is a lot of people in Alberta, against spending taxpayer money on this. ... What we should be doing is doing what the U.S. is doing. Even though they're putting in money to CCS, they're putting a lot of money into the development and deployment of renewable technologies and major retrofits."

At a Feb. 10 Natural Resources Committee meeting, Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt (Halton, Ont.) reiterated the Conservative government's $1-billion investment to clean energy in the recent 2009 budget. "The $1-billion clean energy fund to support further development of key technologies such as carbon capture and storage, or CCS. CCS shows great promise in allowing Canada to benefit from its strategic petroleum resources while achieving significant reductions in GHG emissions, the kind of technology Canada needs and the world wants," she said.
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