There is an interesting article that has appeared in the August 2012 issue of Physics Today titled
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Newly published geophysical research and a committee of experts have cast doubts on whether carbon capture and storage (CCS) can play the major role that some scientists and coal producers had hoped for in mitigating climate change. A report released by the National Research Council (NRC) in mid-June warns that the injection of millions of tons of supercritical liquid carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel plants into deep geological formations is likely to create earthquakes that will fracture the surrounding impermeable rock and allow the greenhouse gas to work its way back toward the surface. Separately, Stanford University geophysicists Mark Zoback and Steven Gorelick write in a 26 June article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that “there is a high probability that earthquakes will be triggered by injection of large volumes of CO2 into the brittle rocks commonly found in continental interiors.” They argue that “large-scale CCS is a risky, and likely unsuccessful, strategy for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”Colorado School of Mines geologist Murray Hitzman, who chaired the NRC committee that wrote Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies, told a 19 June hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that two factors, “net fluid balance” and the volume of the injected liquid, largely determine whether an earthquake will result when liquids are pumped into underground formations. According to the NRC report, oil and gas development projects that take into account the balance between fluid injected and fluid withdrawn produce significantly fewer seismic events than projects that ignore the fluid balance. In CCS, CO2 is injected without any corresponding extraction of the brine that’s often present in the formation.Zoback, who also appeared at the Senate committee hearing, said that for CCS to contribute significantly to mitigating climate change, about 3.5 billion metric tons worldwide would have to be sequestered annually. Right now, a few large-scale CCS operations, including one at a Norwegian gas well in the North Sea and another at a gas well in Algeria, are each storing around 1 million tons a year.
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Beginning in 2017 the FutureGen Alliance, a US-based industry–government consortium, plans to capture and store 1.3 million tons of CO2 per year at a coal-burning power plant in Meredosia, Illinois. Lawrence Pacheco, a spokesman for the $1.3 billion venture, says that at the injection site both the porosity of the sandstone formation nearly a mile below the surface and the caprock permeability are ideal for CO2 storage. In addition to a $1 billion pledge to FutureGen, DOE is funding three industrial-scale CCS projects, including a plan to capture and store 4.5 million tons a year from a methanol refinery and another to sequester 1 million tons annually from ethanol production. Two of the three projects will use the CO2 in enhanced oil recovery.
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In the big picture, seismicity pales in comparison to cost as an impediment to the adoption of CCS, says Rachel Cleetus, a climate economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Honestly, the challenges to CCS are so significant on the economic front that this is just going to be one more thing that makes people question the risk of going down that path versus other options that are readily available and much less risky, such as wind and solar,” she says.“The difficulty is that carbon isn’t priced in a meaningful way,” adds GeoScience’s Batchelor. “Until carbon has a price, it bears down on the renewables, and it bears down on CCS. And the US, UK, and most European governments are not going to put their industries at a competitive disadvantage by saying we insist you do [CCS] and double the price of power on a unilateral basis.”