Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

New study finds geologic sequestration “is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions”

By Joe Romm  

"New study finds geologic sequestration “is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions”"


google plus icon

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has dug itself into quite a  deep hole.  Costs remain very, very high (see Harvard study: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 “” 20 cents per kWh!).  And nobody wants the CO2 stored underground anywhere near them (see CCS shocker: “German carbon capture plan has ended with CO2 being pumped directly into the atmosphere”).

Now comes a new study in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, “Sequestering carbon dioxide in a closed underground volume,” by Christene Ehlig-Economides, professor of energy engineering at Texas A&M, and Michael Economides, professor of chemical engineering at University of Houston.  Here are its blunt findings:

Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing CO2 in a closed system. Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical CO2 to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space. This will require from 5 to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions.

The study concludes:

In applying this to a commercial power plant the findings suggest that for a small number of wells the areal extent of the reservoir would be enormous, the size of a small US state.  Conversely, for more moderate size reservoirs, still the size of Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay reservoir, and with moderate permeability there would be a need for hundreds of wells. Neither of these bodes well for geological CO2 sequestration and the findings of this work clearly suggest that it is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others.

Realistically, it has always been hard to see how CCS could be more than a small part of the solution to averting catastrophic climate change, as I discussed at length in my September 2008 post, Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?

We need to put in place 12 to 14 “stabilization wedges” by mid-century to avoid a multitude of catastrophic climate impact “” see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated)”   For CCS to be even one of those would require a flow of CO2 into the ground equal to the current flow of oil out of the ground. That would require, by itself, re-creating the equivalent of the planet’s entire oil delivery infrastructure, no mean feat.

But any significant amount of leakage would render CCS pointless.  The UK Guardian‘s article on the study quotes the coauthor:

Previous modelling has hugely underestimated the space needed to store CO2 because it was based on the “totally erroneous” premise that the pressure feeding the carbon into the rock structures would be constant, argues Michael Economides, professor of chemical engineering at Houston, and his co-author Christene Ehlig-Economides, professor of energy engineering at Texas A&M University

“It is like putting a bicycle pump up against a wall. It would be hard to inject CO2 into a closed system without eventually producing so much pressure that it fractured the rock and allowed the carbon to migrate to other zones and possibly escape to the surface,” Economides said.

The paper concludes that CCS “is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others.”

The Guardian talked to “The Carbon Capture and Storage Association (CCSA), which lobbies on behalf of the sector”:

Jeff Chapman, chief executive of the CCSA, believes Economides has made inappropriate assumptions about the science and geology. He believes the conclusions in the paper are wrong and says his views are backed up by rebuttals from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Pacific Northwest National laboratory and the American Petroleum Institute.

The British Geological Survey confirmed it was looking at the Economides findings and was hoping to shortly produce a peer-reviewed analysis.

UPDATE:  You can read the critique from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory here.  I hope they publish it.  The fact is that the concerns laid out in the new study are not new ones.  Indeed, my 2008 post quoted a BusinessWeek piece, “The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal“:

The method is widely viewed as being decades away from commercial viability. Even then, the cost could be prohibitive: by a conservative estimate, several trillion dollars to switch to clean coal in the U.S. alone.Then there are the safety questions. One large, coal-fired plant generates the equivalent of 3 billion barrels of CO2 over a 60-year lifetime. That would require a space the size of a major oil field to contain. The pressure could cause leaks or earthquakes, says Curt M. White, who ran the U.S. Energy Dept.’s carbon sequestration group until 2005 and served as an adviser until earlier this year. “Red flags should be going up everywhere when you talk about this amount of liquid being put underground.”


Since CCS is probably at least two decades away from being practical and affordable for large-scale commercialization (assuming we have a high and rising CO2 price by then), we’ll have plenty of time to test different wells and geologies and find out just how many of those red flags we should be paying attention to.

Fortunately, there are many, many other carbon-reducing and clean energy solutions available to us now:

‹ Energy and Global Warming News for April 27: US & Canada lose higher percentage of forests than Brazil; Business groups say climate impasse undermines clean energy

Obama: ‘Our Security, Our Economy, And The Future Of Our Planet’ Depend On ‘Comprehensive Energy And Climate Legislation’ ›

35 Responses to New study finds geologic sequestration “is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions”

  1. Bob Wallace says:

    Joe, how about getting “Jerome a Paris” to write a version of his “Wind’s latest problem: it … makes power too cheap” article for this site?

    He’s deeply involved in the financing part of wind farms, including offshore wind. And he talks about how the price of wind-generated electricity is the death of new coal plant construction, even without the cost of sequestration.

    Here’s a couple of bits…

    “The wind-energy boom in Europe and parts of Texas has begun to reduce bills for consumers. Spanish power prices fell an annual 26 percent in the first quarter because of the surge in supplies from wind and hydroelectric production.”

    “As to your point that wind needs backup: again: so what? The MWs are already here today; you don’t need to mothball gas-fired plants when you build wind; you just use them differently, as peakers instead of base or midload providers. And again, gas capacity (MW) is cheap; it’s the MWh that are expensive. Building a MW of gas-fired power plant for each MW of wind (a silly proposal, because you can cope with much less than that, even at high wind penetrations) would only increase the cost of wind by roughly 30%.”

    Here’s a link…


  2. Rockfish says:

    Stunner? Hardly! CCS is patently ridiculous, and has been a feeble prop to the coal industry since day 1. LOTS of technologies are 2 decades from commercialization – the hydrogen economy, fuel cells, etc etc etc.
    The more time (and money) we pump into this hole in the ground the less progress we will make on useful things.
    We need blogs like this to tell it like it is, not end “critical” posts with patronizing little nuggets so as not to offend the CCS fans int he audience. Tell it like it is. CCS is BS. That’s all we need to know!

  3. Lou Grinzo says:

    There are two main spheres of concern with CCS:

    1. The technical one laid out in the article Joe discussed.

    2. The economic one relating to what it will cost to retrofit hundreds of coal and natural gas plants with CCS hardware (when they weren’t
    designed for that) and then transport all that CO2 to a suitable injection site (when the plants weren’t sited with that requirement in mind).

    Yes, I know that a technical problem is more or less equivalent to an economic one, but I think these are still distinct issues.

    I’ve always been skeptical of CCS, and I’ve only grown much more so in the last few months.

    Expect to see a major push back on this paper from the fossil fuelers simply because CCS is the only hope the coal companies (and everyone in economic bed with them, like the railroads, which derive a significant portion of their revenue from hauling coal all over the US) have for avoiding either extinction or a very painful future.

  4. Jay Turner says:

    It makes more sense to spend the billions of dollars the government is pouring into CCS research and other fossil fuel subsidies on buying up coal reserves to keep them off the market. The cheapest carbon sequestration is not digging it up in the first place.

    I’d rather pay taxes to buy out the coal industry than to subsidize it.
    I’d even endorse higher taxes to buy up and replace the coal-fired power plants. Funding CCS is a dead-end, a distraction and a waste of time.

  5. Bob Wallace says:

    Funding CCS research, I would argue, has been smart and necessary.

    We did it. Now we have data. Had we not done the research coal companies could continue to argue that we should keep on burning coal until sequestering was developed.

    You can spend lots of time arguing with your opponents or you can find a way to cut the legs out from under their argument.

    (And I’ll make the same argument for giving loan guarantees to a few nuclear plants, allowing drilling off the Atlantic coast, ….)

  6. Chris Dudley says:

    Don’t forget, clean coal is a dirty lie.

  7. Paul V. says:

    There are plenty of reasons to be critical and skeptical of CO2 storage, especially in saline aquifers. But the Economides paper is deeply flawed, particularly in its assumption of a closed system, and I’m ashamed to say the media has handled it poorly.

    See this critique from PNNL, which puts it plainly:


    [JR: No doubt they'll submit this for publication. I tend to think the issues surrounding the storage haven't been fully examined.]

  8. CCS is working very well.

    The federal government is pumping billions into CCS.

    CCS research will give an excuse to build more coal fired power plants. CCS is just around the corner. In ten years we will begin serious emissions cuts with CCS. Congress will pass legislation to allow more coal plants to be built over the next ten years.

    Clean coal. It’s a dirty lie.

  9. Doug Bostrom says:

    Rather hard to believe the industry experts pushing CCS were not already aware of these issues, basic as they are. After that leap it’s hard not to conclude that the entire CCS push is simply theatrics more or less intended mainly for the purpose of introducing distraction and delay thereby allowing BAU to continue for as long as possible. A few years of CCS hypnosis equals billions of dollars safely earned and stashed away. Fund the theatrical troupe with tax dollars and the cynicism becomes simply breathtaking to behold.

  10. fj2 says:

    Continued CO2 sequestering in the world’s oceans as an intermediate step with final sequestration in agricultural and re-forestation efforts may be a viable strategy.

  11. Bob Wallace says:

    Doug #19 Yes, delay is a very useful tool for allowing one to make ‘just a few more bucks’. It’s what the coal companies were doing by appealing most safety violation writeups.

    It’s also the Republican strategy to keep the current administration from completing more of their agenda. Stall and hope for a return to power later. At the least, stall. Let their backers salt away some more money.

  12. Dan says:

    I’m with Paul V. here. CCS may have its technical and cost hurdles, but its basic science is sound.

    [JR: How could you possibly know that? Nobody has done even a single large-scale multi-year demonstration in a relevant geological formation. Let alone dozens. We don't even know how to monitor and verify no leakage.]

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Declaration of Independence From Coal — and Why So Hidden, Edison Electric Institute?

    During some free time today (in Washington DC), I stopped by to visit some places — the Union of Concerned Scientists, the American Chemical Society, the AAAS, and a few others. The science-oriented organizations were open, welcoming, and so forth. Most had materials, or made copies, or offered to send me some. But …

    I also stopped by to visit (or try to visit) the Edison Electric Institute — the big utility and coal folks. Well …

    As it turns out, the Edison Electric Institute is headquartered in a very nice building, right on Pennsylvania Avenue, and (indeed) right across the street from the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence itself (and other great documents) sit. With a decent throw, a person could probably throw a baseball from the Castle of (mostly) Coal-Generated Electricity to our founding documents.

    The interesting thing is, you wouldn’t know it. As far as I could tell, there are no “Edison Electric Institute” signs on the building. At first, I had to check the address three times. And, unlike all the other buildings I visited, in the case of the Edison Electric Institute, a regular member of the public can’t even enter the lobby of the building without one of those automatic security cards. In other words, the building does not want (or apparently like!) the public. But I got in anyhow when an entering employee let me in. Sure enough, I was in the right place. But, in a different sense, I was in the wrong place. At the ground floor security desk, it became clear that the Edison Electric Institute does not have any info for the in-person public, sees people by invitation only, does not have anyone (other than the ground-floor security service guard) willing to say “hi”, or anyone willing to answer a question or two, and … well basically … although I was very polite the whole time, the Edison Electric Institute just plain doesn’t want to see the public and doesn’t even want the public to realize that it’s there.

    “That pesky public! Can’t they just pay their electric bills, dig coal, send us money, believe our “clean coal” stuff, and leave us alone?!”

    And all of this is just a stone’s throw from our Declaration of Independence.

    The clean coal stuff has been an impossible joke all along. That’s an impossible joke … not even an impossible dream. The industry associations won’t even answer their doors or put signs on their buildings. And walking around Washington, and visiting some of these organizations, (trust me on this), you get the impression that the scientific organizations are warm, honest, transparent, concerned, and friendly (because they are!), and you get the distinct impression that the API, the Edison Electric Institute, and etc. do not want to see you, do not want to hear from you, don’t care about you, want to hide in big buildings without signs, and will only talk to you (if you’re lucky) if you have a huge contract to give them or, better yet, just a big bag of cash.

    I am here in DC today, and I can tell you, that’s what it feels like, looks like, and seems like.

    Thanks very much to the kind people at the UCS, the ACS, and the AAAS.

    And declare Independence from Coal! The sooner we do, the better.

    Cheers and Be Well,


  14. A very large part of the now-moribund Climate Bill was devoted to funding further CCS efforts. Another huge chunk of the Federal legislation is devoted to another technology which has been roundly debunked as a boondoggle — new nuclear power.

    These special interests have worked very hard to feed at the public trough, yet they will contribute little or nothing to the actual solutions. The public wants clean energy to work, not more excuses to keep using coal and nuclear power. Both of these “Business as Usual” technologies still carry multiple hazardous and polluting consequences.

    Greatly lacking in the legislation has been a sufficient effort to fund demonstration projects of utility-scale energy storage, the “Holy Grail” of renewable energy needed to achieve very high percentage levels of wind and solar power:


    Instead of funding countless billions for what seems to be a doomed effort to achieve CO2 storage for coal, let’s shift those monies to the energy storage projects needed to finally usher in once and for all the Age of Renewable Energy.

  15. Aaron Lewis says:

    PNNL has done a lot of work for US DOE, and PNNL has taken on many of the mind sets of their biggest client and funder. One of these is that fossil fuel is a good source of energy and should be advocated, supported, and subsidized until it does appear to be a good cheap source of energy, regardless of the costs to taxpayers and society.

    CCS is “End of pipe waste treatment”. End of pipe waste treatment only works if the treated waste is a product with significant, positive economic value. In waste treatment, technology is almost never the problem. Call PNNL, and they WILL find a technology to treat your waste. The problem is that the technology is too expensive. Cost is always the problem with waste treatment. Thus, CCS will only work if the CO2 is turned into a substance that has a positive economic value in a process that operates at a cost that is less than the value of the product(s). Putting CO2 into the ground is not cost effective. The solution is to change the process so that the waste material (CO2) is not produced. That is, if CO2 cannot be turned into a product with economic value, then waste minimization should be applied.

    How would we minimize waste (CO2) in the production of energy? Let’s see, solar, wind, and energy efficiency (reduced length of transmission lines) come to mind. Solar panels over the parking lot and roof only have to produce 10% of the energy that the coal fired plant in Utah has to produce to deliver the same energy to the building.

    Unless you have a high value product that can be made cheaply from CO2, forget CCS.

  16. David B. Benson says:

    But the geochamistry of weathering mafic rock (and hence removing CO2) is well understood. Here is a sample of what happens to mine tailings:
    Proposals to pump CO2 into basalt (a mafic rosk) on the ocean floor have been made. I have high confidence that the CO2 cannot escape; it would require a supply of energy to undo the exothermic weathering chemical reaction.

    I have no idea of the economics of this method of CO2 removal (not sequestration, there isn’t any CO2 anymore).

    [JR: Basalt on the ocean floor is very unlikely to be a destination for much CO2.]

  17. David B. Benson says:

    I could go on about what is wrong with this paper, but I’ll defer to my colleagues well down the road at PNNL. But I did want to link to in situ basalt weathering:

  18. John McCormick says:

    Headline: dog bites man!

  19. Jeff Hopkins says:

    shocker spoiler alert! All forms of energy use are accompanied by environmental and economic baggage, coal is cheap but high in CO2 emissions, natural gas is more expensive but also high in CO2 emissions, renewables are intermittent (and therefore expensive) and land-hungry, while nuclear is expensive and requires special care in managing the fuel life cycle. Could there be a way out of this economic decision in the face of an environmental externality? Carbon price anyone?

  20. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Jeff – perhaps you could explain how base-load solar power, geo-thermal power, and the diverse yields from wood feedstock, are intermittent ?
    And how tidal power, wave power and offshore wind power, are ‘land-hungry’ ?

  21. Bob Wallace says:

    Aaron – would you please explain this statement?

    “Solar panels over the parking lot and roof only have to produce 10% of the energy that the coal fired plant in Utah has to produce to deliver the same energy to the building.”

    Are you talking about transmission loss? And, if so, are you aware that the Mountain Intertie, a HVDC line, connects Utah with CA? And the efficiency of HVDC?

  22. Posted this from a magazine article I wrote about CCS late last year: “Canada’s Carbon Capture Fraud: The $1.6 billion (and counting) Taxpayer Gift to Coal and Oil Industry” http://bit.ly/czoW1N
    Yep CCS for the tar sands which is even more unlikely to work – take the money, buy 3+million hi-efficiency fridges to replace old ones and save more CO2. Guaranteed to work too.

  23. Jeff Hopkins says:

    @Lewis, thanks for the excellent examples and sorry to narrow in on land (how about ‘space-hungry’?) but a carbon price would likewise reflect (and reward) the advantages of these and your non-intermittent renewable energy sources as well. What do you think?

  24. Leland Palmer says:

    I still think that Energy Secretary Chu has the right approach- continue to support the development of CCS. The synergistic effects of combining biomass energy with CCS are simply too great to be ignored.

    Christene Ehlig-Economides is a professor of petroleum engineering at Texas A&M University. She also runs the Center for Energy, Environment, and Transportation Innovation (CEETI) in the Crisman Institute. The Crisman Institute, runs three other centers: the Halliburton Center for Unconventional Resources, the Chevron Center for Well Construction and Production, and the Schlumberger Center for Reservoir Description and Dynamics.


    I’d like people on this blog to consider an alternate possibility: that the fossil fuel corporations want to be left alone, and so are funding research that exaggerates the cost and consequences of CCS.

  25. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Jeff – I share your support for a price on carbon in principle, but am concerned at its improper application. The simplest way to discredit an effective technique is to apply it really badly, after which no one will countenance it.

    It seems that Obama’s administration has assembled an inter-agency group whose chosen parameters of a cost-benefit analysis of controlling carbon yields a price of around $21/TC.
    The British calculation shows a price of up to $120/TC.
    The Whitehouse figure is so low as to make no significant difference to carbon usage by the US.

    Grist has a very well informed article on this issue:

    The parameters chosen are brazenly incompetent and grossly askew from the scientific reality. Patently Holden, Chu, etc have been excluded from or ignored by that group.

    I’m unable to accept that Obama’s heads of agencies are too stupid to know what they’re doing in appeasing the fossil lobby, and to tar the whole administration with corruption seems excessive. A third option is that, despite the recent mirror-statements by both US and Chinese presidents over current CC impacts on their territories (within three days of eachother after about 7,300 days of UNFCCC negotiations) the US continues to play an utterly callous brinkmanship over “Who can ignore Global Warming the longest.”

    Given the 35-year timelag on emissions’ warming impact, and the declining sinks, and the accelerating feedbacks, the continued delay resulting from that brinkmanship means it is our childrens’ lives that are the stakes they are throwing on the table.

    I suspect there is already a case for Obama’s impeachment on grounds of culpable negligence.



  26. Leland Palmer says:

    Quoting from the Economides paper:

    The capture and subsequent geologic sequestration of CO2 has been central to plans for managing CO2 produced by the combustion of fossil fuels. The magnitude of the task is overwhelming in both physical needs and cost, and it entails several components including capture, gathering and injection. The rate of injection per well and the cumulative volume of injection in a particular geologic formation are critical elements of the process.

    Published reports on the potential for sequestration fail to address the necessity of storing CO2 in a closed system. Our calculations suggest that the volume of liquid or supercritical CO2 to be disposed cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space.


    The volume of supercritical CO2 to be disposed of cannot exceed more than about 1% of pore space?

    Supercritical CO2 is a very penetrating state of CO2, used for dry cleaning and for laboratory extraction of oil and grease from soil, among other uses. It’s hard for me to believe that only 1% of the pore space is available for storage.

    This is an outlier study. They admit themselves that most other authorities think that much more than 1% of pore space is available for CO2 storage.

    I saved this paper, and will read it with interest. But it is an outlier study.

    One percent of the pore space available for CO2? Not one percent of the total volume but one percent of the pore space?

    In supercritical fluid chromatography, which uses supercritical CO2, a chemical of intermediate polarity between the oily CO2 and the water is often mixed with supercritical CO2 to promote miscibility.

    It’s hard for me to believe that the limits they are talking about are actually as low as they say. It’s hard for me to believe that with human ingenuity something could not be done to increase their very low estimate of one percent of pore volume available for CO2 sequestration.

    For one thing, below 2.7 kilometers, supercritical CO2 is actually denser than water, so that by pumping out a volume of brine from a deep saline aquifer to another adjacent one, it should be possible to create enough space for more than that volume of CO2.

    Simple addition of a small amount of detergent to the mixture of CO2 and water could lead to the formation of a stable emulsion of these two almost immiscible phases.

  27. Roger says:

    Jeff H. (Comment 13), Your ‘man on the street’ reporting about the various DC entities rings true, based on some of our experiences.

    You offer great advice: to begin to wean ourselves from coal ASAP. Projects such as Cape Wind in MA deserve expedited approval NOW!

    So, where was Obama on Sunday? Not at a forward-looking climate rally on the National Mall, but, with due respect, at a scofflaw’s deadly coal mine.

  28. Bob Wallace says:

    Roger #27

    Cape Wind has been approved. Today.

    Obama was a the miner’s memorial service. And he provided a video presentation for the rally.

  29. Rockfish says:

    Nature has already invented the perfect CCS system.

    It’s called coal.

  30. fj2 says:

    29. Rockfish, “Nature has already invented the perfect CCS system. It’s called coal.”

    Projected for commercialization by about 2050:

    Molecular strength materials such as carbon nanotubes 100 to 200 times stronger than steel per weight and hardness at about 60% that of diamond may prove to be a lot more useful as tremendous enabling technology for reinventing the built environment to start seriously mitigating the ever-increasing environmental crisis.

    As carbon nanotubes might serve as the new steel and concrete, molecular strength graphene — another form of carbon — in stretch-wrap thicknesses might serve as the new glass or clear plastic providing low-cost evacuated tubes for small-vehicle transit at speeds 300 miles per hour and even more.

  31. Mark T says:

    Joe -

    Did you read the Batelle NW article by Dooley and Davidson? It is OK to oppose CCS being used as a reason to continue to plan for coal power, but objections need to be based on good science, and good physics. Ehlig-Economides and Economides (2009) mathematically create a fluid filled steel shoebox,

  32. Leland Palmer says:

    From :http://geology.utah.gov/emp/co2sequest/pdf/reservoirs.pdf

    Most CO2 fields are similar to conventional natural gas fields, with the gas trapped in dome-like structures. The most common reservoir lithologies are sandstone and dolomite, with mudstone and anhydrite being the most common sealing rocks. The horizontal dimensions of the gas reservoirs (~ 10 km) are typically 100 times larger than the reservoir thickness. Stacked reservoirs (or gas occurrences) are not uncommon, indicating that gas has migrated up through the sedimentary section. The gas storage in the well-known reservoirs ranges from 1 – 100 trillion cubic feet (TCF; gas at standard temperature and pressure; 28 – 2800 billion m3) with 1 – 10 TCF being common. This compares with a CO2 volume of 4 TCF (100 billion m3) issued from the stacks of a 1000 MW coal-fired plant over 20 years.

    So natural reservoirs of 1-10 trillion cubic feet are common, with 4 trillion cubic feet being issued from a 1000 MW coal-fired power plant over 20 years.

    The areas of these reservoirs are commonly 100 times greater than the reservoir thickness – not the thousands of times greater that the Economedes paper proposes.

    So, nature can create these naturally occurring CO2 reservoirs, but we can’t?

    If the pressure builds up in the reservoir the way the Economedes paper proposes, why can’t we simply pump some of the water out? If pumping costs are prohibitive, why can’t we just use wind or solar energy to do the pumping, with no energy storage for these energy sources required?

  33. The Economides couple got this one wrong. Their assumptions have been rebutted by a wide array of scientific and research bodies as well as stakeholders from across the board. For more details read my blog here: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/gperidas/economides_x2_try_their_hand_a.html

  34. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi George-

    Quoting from your link:

    Michael Economides, a compatriot of mine, is no stranger to limelight. An active blogger on energy matters, he also admits to being something of a climate change skeptic. He is featured in Sen. James Inhofe’s (a radical Oklahoma senator who famously called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”) list of 400 scientists who question climate change. He has questioned green jobs, while claiming that drilling will transform the economy, “positioning our nation for a cleaner, more secure energy future”. His wife, Christine Ehlig-Economides is a respected petroleum engineer and professor in Texas.

    It is obvious that neither of them are strangers to the oil industry and storing fluids in the subsurface. However, this time they simply got it wrong. Quick to rebut their claims were the European Technology Platform for Zero Emission Fossil Fuel Power Plants (ZEP), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Edinburgh University, Imperial College and the American Petroleum Institute (links to rebuttal documents included).

    Here are some excerpts from these documents:

    “We consider this to be a serious misrepresentation of the scientific, engineering and operational facts surrounding CCS” [ZEP]

    “From this narrow analysis, the authors make sweeping conclusions that are not relevant to the general feasibility of CCS.” [LBNL]

    “The conclusions asserted by the Ehlig-Economides and Economides paper are flawed and stand in stark contrast to the enormous body of literature and field experience on CO2 injection and storage in the subsurface.” [PNNL]

    “This paper includes a number of mis-statements and erroneous base assumptions which could lead readers to arrive at inappropriate conclusions regarding the role that CCS can play in addressing CO2 emissions” [API]

    The rebuttal documents are united in pointing out the basic flaws of the Economides’ analysis (WRI has also posted a response here):

    * The availability of storage reservoirs is far greater than assumed (the authors, for example, rule out outcropping aquifers and “open” reservoirs, when both types are capable of secure storage);
    * Many reservoirs are thicker that the authors assume;
    * The assumed storage efficiency (or the % of pore space that the injected CO2 will occupy) is very low;
    * Dissolution of CO2 is not as slow as is assumed.

    It also turns out that when more realistic assumptions are plugged into the Economides’ calculations, the conclusions are very different, indicating that, for example, the Mt. Simon formation in the Illinois basin alone could store around 16 billion tons of CO2 – roughly double the amount of U.S. annual emissions today, and representative of some estimates for how much mitigation would come from CCS alone by 2050.

    Thanks a lot.

    Digging more coal out of the ground at this point is just stupid, in my opinion. I don’t want CCS for storage of fossil fuel CO2 – I want it for carbon negative combustion of biomass combined with CCS, to put carbon back underground, and reverse global warming, not just manage it.

    The Economedes’ objections, exaggerated and pessimistic as they are, need to be very carefully examined, IMO.

    Michael Economedes’ presence on Inhofe’s denier list is very telling, though. Likely this is just another corporate funded propaganda piece. His wife’s institute may possibly be a way that the oil corporations, or investors associated with them, are able to legally transfer money to the family to pay for this sort of biased calculation.

    This sort of institutionalized lying, about the future of the earth itself, should be a crime, IMO. It does terrible violence to the truth, and to the democratic process itself.

  35. Leland Palmer says:

    Some final points-

    Suppose some leakage of CO2 to the atmosphere does occur?

    We’ve got 100% leakage right now.

    Nature’s perfect storage for carbon isn’t coal, by the way. It’s carbonate rock. Carbonate is actually the lowest energy state of carbon, which is why it is nature’s thermodynamically stable carbon storage medium.

    It may be possible to accelerate this process, especially if CCS is done in mafic basalt layers, and expose the supercritical CO2 to calcium and magnesium ions, especially in the presence of geothermal heat. A small amount of a chelating agent like EDTA might radically speed up this process by modifying the chemical equilibria of the calcium and magnesium ions. It might also be possible to create self reinforcing positive feedback in situ carbonation, in which the heat of the process speeds the process up.

    It’s way too early for the pessimistic assumptions of the Economedes paper to be assumed to be true, without actual testing of them.