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