Can We Fix Climate Change By Sequestering Carbon in the Earth? Don’t Count On It

  • Published on January 15th, 2011

Carbon sequestration” seems like a good idea: Instead of pumping CO2 into the air, why not liquefy it and pump it into the ground? This is one of the linchpins of clean coal. If we do that, we can keep burning coal and natural gas, we don’t get global warming and nobody has to change their lifestyle.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There have been a number of proposals made, and millions spent on pilot projects. But nobody knows if we can do this on a scale that will make a real impact.

The biggest problem: What goes down might come back up.

When you pump CO2 under high pressure into rock formations, there’s a chance it might emerge again. And despite the argument made by House Speaker John Boehner that carbon dioxide is a perfectly natural gas that we exhale every day… in high enough concentrations it can kill. (Don’t believe me? Tape a plastic bag over your head and see how that works out for you. But do it with a friend in the room so he can rip it off after you black out.)

Which means if the CO2 does emerge… it can cause huge problems.

In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, the energy company Cenovus has been injecting carbon dioxide into oil wells with the aim of extracting oil while sequestering carbon at the same time. Now carbon dioxide is leaking out of the soil on land formerly used for farming by a Saskatchewan couple. Jane and Cameron Kerr, owners of the property, hired energy consultant Paul Lafleur to determine where the gas was coming from. According to Lafleur, the source is the Cenovus oilfield located about two kilometers away.

In certain areas on the Kerr’s property carbon dioxide is leaking up in concentrations high enough to kill animals like rabbits and goats, most likely by asphyxiation. It has also been causing strange and colorful algal blooms in bodies of water. The safety hazard forced the Kerrs to leave their property, but Cenovus has dismissed their concerns. Cenovus unsurprisingly argues the carbon could have come from elsewhere—despite the common sense conclusion that the huge carbon injection project a couple kilometers away might have something to do with the problem.

Picture that on a city-wide scale, with people dying instead of goats… and you can see this is a technology whose time has not come.

(Graphic from CO2-Handel)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.
  • THE DENIERS HAVE WON
    As a former climate change believer, may I personally apologize for condemning billions of children to death by CO2 for 25 years, just to get them to turn the lights out more often. I had become the fear mongering neocon of CO2 environMENTALism as I issued CO2 death warrants to YOUR family and mine. I apologize for calling: cold -warm, warm -hot and for calling all bad weather -Humanity’s fault. I apologize for splitting responsible environmentalism and dragging progressivism down with it. I apologize for not endorsing population control instead of impossible climate control. I apologize for scaring children with: “unstoppable warming” and “out of control warming and “runaway warming“ and not having the honesty to call it THE END OF THE WORLD.
    I’m sorry I forgot this MOST important fact:
    -that it was the trusted scientists we bowed to and their evil chemicals that made environmentalism necessary in the first place.
    We former believers admit to being pretend rebels as we were spoon-fed by corporations and politicians promising to lower the seas. The neocons have never admitted their Iraq War WMD’s and the scientists have never admitted responsibility for their chemicals that are causing cancer. I admit my ideology’s WMD’s that led us to another Bush-like false war against a false enemy. Please forgive me?

  • What is now called CO2 sequestration used to be called CO2 Enhanced Oil Recovery, or more specifically Water Alternate Gas (WAG) reservoir flooding. This technique is 50 years old and has been used continuously in many huge fields in the US (Permian Basin of Texas, South Louisiana). The account you provide is interesting. I have been a petroleum engineer for 30 years and never heard of such an incident. How did this “energy consultant” determine where the CO2 came from? How did he determine that there was CO2? Most CO2 used in EOR WAG floods comes from natural sources (wells drilled for CO2). Are there any CO2 wells in the area? You article is devoid of verifiable facts and scientific method, but does manage to sound scary.