"Clean Energy Dialogue" or Carbon Capture Shellgame?

Thu, 2009-02-19 13:10Mitchell Anderson
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"Clean Energy Dialogue" or Carbon Capture Shellgame?

Obama-mania hit Canada’s capital hard this week but there was much more at play than photo ops during the President’s five-hour visit.

Harper and Obama announced a “clean energy dialogue” focusing on “carbon capture and storage” technology (CCS) – a stash-the-emissions pipe-dream that remains unproven on an commercial scale anywhere in the world.

In particular, the myth that CCS will somehow eliminate emissions from the Alberta tar sands is a dangerous delusion. Just three months ago, a secret government memo came to light showing that significant carbon capture at the tar sands is virtually impossible

“Only a small percentage of emitted CO2 is ‘capturable’ since most emissions aren’t pure enough,” federal experts concluded. “Only limited near-term opportunities exist in the oilsands and they largely relate to upgrader facilities.”

That of course has not stopped the Harper government and the oil lobby from trotting out this dubious technical fix as a rationale for the pell mell development of the dirtiest oil on Earth.

Last year Harper proclaimed This new technology, carbon capture and storage, when fully commercialized … will collect carbon dioxide emissions from oilsands operations and coal-fired electrical plants and seal them deep underground.”

Strange. Mr. Harper was surely in possession of the memo in question when he made that bold statement. Perhaps he has expertise in geology and engineering surpassing those of the scientists in his employ.

This spin strategy goes far beyond mere words. The federal and Alberta government are shoveling $2.5 billion in tax dollars towards developing this supposed petroleum panacea – and the tar sands remains the number-one rationale for doing so.

Why the disconnect between science and policy? Harper and the oil industry have been sweating bullets that the incoming Obama Administration will begin to shift away from using filthy oil from Alberta.

The stakes are enormous since tar sands operators lack the infrastructure to deliver oil anywhere but the US.

This is also the largest capital project on the planet - and in Harper’s home province. More than $200 billion has been invested so far. Another $2.5 billion in public money towards a baseless technical solution is small potatoes if it will provide a rationale to keep the gravy train rolling a little while longer.

Bare in mind that CCS at the tar sands - even if it worked - would only deal with the emissions from extraction. The downstream emissions – predominantly from tailpipes – are four times as large. Unless drivers begin dragging very long hoses behind their vehicles, CCS will do nothing to deal with this much larger problem.

It is also useful to compare the $2.5 billion “investment” Harper and Alberta have made in CCS, to how much money the Canadian government is putting towards developing carbon-free technologies such as wind and solar: less than $1.5 billion.

In other words we are spending over one and a half times as much taxpayers dollars towards an unproven technology that will directly benefit the fossil fuel industry as we are developing truly carbon-neutral energy for the 21st century.

And then there is money. Since there are no commerical examples of CSS anywhere in the world, the costs remain highly uncertain. However the best estimates so far are that CSS would increase production costs by 30-60%. Who is going to pay for that? Given the plummeting economics of the tar sands, the likelihood of CCS being embraced by industry are becoming vanishingly small.

Back to Harper and Obama. The US president has his own dirty energy sector to placate: Big Coal. They have thrown $30 million towards a “clean coal” PR campaign in 2008 alone - much of it targeted directly at federal decision makers. If this is such a great idea, why do they need that much money to sell it?

The reason - bluntly put - is that is that “clean coal” is crap.

A Study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that: “”the first commercial CCS plant won’t be on stream until 2030 at the earliest.” Even Oil-giant Shell “doesn’t foresee CCS being in widespread use until 2050.”

Unresolved challenges around geology, engineering and economics put this potential “solution” decades away – if ever. In the meantime, the tar sands and US coal plants may keep churning away towards atmospheric tipping points that scientists have been warning us about for years.

Details of the agreement today remain sketchy but a strong public endorsement of carbon capture by Obama and Harper - backed of course with more public money - would be a victory for the fossil fuel lobby and an setback on our road towards a green economy.

Comments

“Rational people shouldn’t focus on reducing emissions in the oilsands through carbon capture and storage”, said David Keith, a professor of petroleum and chemical engineering at the University of Calgary, who was the lead scientist on the task force. 

The overall climate benefit of this particular project is marred by the fact that the extra oil production it enables, an estimated 130 million barrels, will itself release over 50 million tons of carbon dioxide when burned.Lorenz University

well there’s a lot of carbon capture politics going on… If you notice there are a lot challenges in regards to geology, engineering and economics. So this pretty much slows down everything…  and tar sands with coal is a long long dirty road… chemotherapy

Carbon capture and storage is a dangerous road to go down.  You have lock air (CO2) into the ground and make sure it never leaks out.  There is no guarantee that seepage will not occur.  As we all know, it extremely difficult hold the oil industry to account.

My guess is that we will end up 50 years from now with dozens of leakages, many will not even be detected.  Others will be covered up.  Then, there will be another 50 years of litigation.

Mark C. Henderson’s recent book suggests to look into alternative uses for oil sands for the long run.  The environmental strategy is strongly based on conservation, which would reduce both CO2 and toxic pollutants from fossil fuels, and would also conserver resources for the future.  Sequestration with involved only potentially reduce CO2.  It would lead to continued high rates of depletion and of toxic pollution.

More details about Henderson’s strategy are available at http://www.wavesofthefuture.net

Keywords: cap and trade solutions, carbon sequestration strategies

Carbon capture could be very costly and resources demanding. The final judgement is how much of carbon is capured vs money spent?

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They now pale in comparison to what Obama repeatedly has maintained is possible and necessary to move the nation away from coal and other fossil fuels and to clean energy sources. This move, he argues, is required to battle climate change and make the country more energy independent…

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One example:

The Great Plains Synfuels plant in North Dakota produces synthetic natural gas from lignite coal. Since 2000, the facility also captures CO2 from the “synthesis gas,” an intermediate product, compresses that CO2, and transports it 300 kilometers by pipeline to the Weyburn oil field. There the flow of CO2, currently about 8,000 tons per day, is injected into the oil field to enhance oil production. A measurement study headed by the IEA concluded that the CO2 injected at Weyburn will be sequestered there for thousands of years. The overall climate benefit of this particular project is marred by the fact that the extra oil production it enables, an estimated 130 million barrels, will itself release over 50 million tons of carbon dioxide when burned.

To reduce CO2 levels down to where trees and oceans don’t suffocate from it, we would have to sequester 1,200 times the amount mentioned above EACH DAY.

Since CO2 is heavier than air, any accidental (earthquake, earth movement, temperature increase) release (depending on amount) could suffocate any human/animal within its reach! Possibly from sea to shining sea.

For details and calculations: http://www.ElToroEXPOSED.com

 

Carbon capture is costly and resource is demanding everyday.. so sould look on clean energy————————————————————-Jonah Hex || Save energy guide

“Clean Energy Dialogue” the green discussion is completely a political game that’s been played by the super powers of the world. Its a lot of business and USA and UK and other countries are just discussing new laws that poorer countries will have to adhere to if they want to stand a chance at trade with the developed world.

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In 2007 - in a reaction to increasing public opposition to coal-fired power, and in an attempt to influence the 2008 U.S. presidential elections - ABEC increased its annual public relations and advertising budget from $8 million to $30 million, hired the advertising firm R&R Partners (whose CEO, Billy Vassiliadis, is also a Nevada advisor to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama), and launched a high-profile advertising campaign to coincide with the 2008 presidential primaries and general elections, spending $1.3 million on television, billboard, newspaper, and radio advertisements in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina over several months alone. Teams of ABEC supporters, many of them paid, have canvassed outside presidential debates in several states. On December 21, 2007, ABEC sent 30 campaigners dressed in Santa suits to the U.S. Capitol; the Santas delivered stockings full of coal-shaped chocolate to legislators, and promoted the benefits of coal energy. On January 21, ABEC sponsored a CNN Democratic presidential debate - at which no questions about global warming were asked.

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Carbon capture could be very costly and resources demanding.
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well there’s a lot of carbon capture politics going on.
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Clean Energy Dialogue” the green discussion is completely a political game that’s been played by the super powers of the world.
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if ever. In the meantime, the tar sands and US coal plants may keep churning away towards atmospheric tipping points that scientists have been warning us about for years.
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Carbon capture is costly and resource is demanding everyday..
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thanks a lot for the interesting post.

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It’s all about money at the end of it, as always. I came off grid 5 years ago and my small house is powered by the wind and sun. However, I am lucky that I live in a climate that makes this possible.

I think Obama has really let the American people down on Green issues.