Environmental Report – December 2023

December 5, 2023


Capturing Carbon



This Environmental Report follows my last report (in September) and will build on that, especially about the oil company favorite solution for climate change, Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS).  If everything goes according to plan, the next Report (January) will be an attempt at wrapping up COP28 in Dubai, UAE.  It’s all about what to do about mitigating  climate change and helping those experiencing the worst disasters and have contributed the least toward climate change.   The subject of this report is purposely placed between the two COP 28 Reports (September & January).  

A report from Stanford University in October, 2022, gives some insight into CCS and the various methods of capturing and storing Carbon.  There is biologic CCS, where nature does the sequestering from atmospheric CO2 and storing the Carbon in the ground in the form of wood, roots and leaves, where forests and grasslands account for about 25% of the world’s sequestration.  The oceans have been considered a buffer, maintaining a near-neutral pH (neither acid nor base).  The oceans now dissolve about 30% of our CO2 emissions, while, as a consequence, lowering the pH of the water toward the acidic side of the pH spectrum causing ocean acidification.  This is already happening and creating a multitude of localized problems with species like corrals.

Types of geologic CCS:

So, we are now looking at geologic sequestering of Carbon to solve our problems.  There are several ways to accomplish this, but they usually require a means to: (1.) capture the CO2, (2.) transport it to a new location, and (3.) store it someplace like in a geologic formation.  Here’s a view of the options in geologic sequestering: 

(1.) CCS from power plants, for example, to employ Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology.  There are three basic types of DAC processes used today: 

  • Post-combustion method that separates CO2 from the flue gas at a steam boiler process used to produce power.  Basically, grabbing CO2 during fossil fuel combustion. 
  • Use of adsorption (as opposed to absorption – taking in everything like a paper towel).  Adsorption is the ability to hold certain molecules on its surface like, CO2, using a solid substance.
  • Pre-combustion CO2 capture that combines steam and oxygen to produce a synthesis gas that allows CO2 to be separated out using a similar method as used in post-combustion.  

(2.) Using U.S. EPA approved Underground Injection Control (UIC) program with a special type of drilling called Class VI wells to place CO2 deep into a rock formation deemed safe for storage.

This technology is similar to those wells used by oil drilling companies to dispose of their wastewater, especially for Enhanced Oil Recovery rigs (fracking).  Class VI Control wells are specially approved for the use of CCS.  Companies, like ExxonMobil and Chevron are moving ahead with CCS to sequester CO2 deep within the Earth.  For example, the carbon dioxide produced from fuel combustion to power a drilling rig would be captured and pumped into a sub-surface rock formation.  A geologically suitable site is sought out to develop into a hub for pumping CO2 into a formation that is porous enough or is a spacious reservoir to make available storage for the gas.  It’s usually overlain by an impermeable rock layer that, hopefully, will contain the gas at some prescribed depth.  This type of storage at depth is compliant with our Safe Drinking Water Act.

The subject of capturing Carbon is front and center at COP28.  Environmentalists question the ability to guarantee the safety of such wells.  The “capture” and “sequester” parts of the technology are both frightening to think that this is the best the oil industry can do to halt their greenhouse gas emissions.  

This year, our hottest summer ever, has given us strong hints as to how life-threatening it could be if nothing is done about climate change.  Efforts include the reduction to slow down the production of CO2 from all sources, including industrial, vehicular, buildings, agricultural, and more.  There’s also the existing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere that continues to increase.  We breached the 420 ppm (parts per million) CO2 marker this year.  The natural or normal concentration would be between 150 to 300 ppm.  350 ppm is the calculated amount that, if exceeded for any lengthy period, would radically change life as we know it.  Things like species extinctions would be common, which is what we are seeing today.

Renewable energy sources like solar and wind have not proven to be as easily implemented and are not without controversy.  For example, huge solar farms are developing, that require a lot of land causing ecosystem disruptions.  The wind turbine farms, similarly, disrupt ecosystems while killing flying birds.  These are still the best renewable sources we have and have to be suitably sited.

Is Carbon Capture a Viable Answer?

Capturing and storing has become a favored industrial approach to the climate change mitigation problem.  It implies capturing the CO2 molecule at the source before it goes out into the atmosphere or to draw it directly into a building-sized device structure with huge suction fans, designed to remove existing CO2 directly from the atmosphere.  In any event, in meeting our 2050 goals at mitigating climate change is going to need some help if we are going to succeed (100% emission reductions by 2050).  Cost and other impediments to proceeding with CCS have to be dealt with and we will have to pay the price for those new techniques.  It would seem to be best to consider some new technologies and get them perfected to avoid drawbacks.  CCS has some promise but is being sold to the people as the best answer to our prayers.  Oil companies still hold the world hostage to fossil fuels. 

The world is looking at COP28 in the UAE this year with an oil man in charge of proceedings, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.  He and other oil tycoons will be selling to the world the benefits of CCS.  He has made a miraculous change of opinion about science, because he now seems to be very aware and concerned about climate change.  In a previous pre-COP28 meeting he was less aware of the science and didn’t sound very much like one who should be leading the world on mitigating climate change.  He is very invested in techniques that could possibly be used to draw carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and place it somewhere out of sight – out of mind.  

Federal and California Policies:

The Biden Administration passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and the Bipartisan Infrastruture Law (BIL) last year.  This brings us to another concept, using captured CO2 instead of simply storing it.  There’s now a new effort called Carbon Capture Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS).  CCUS implies that captured CO2 can be utilized for some other purpose.  The CO2 is added into cement mixtures to make normal building structures and is used in steel manufacturing as an iron metal hardener.  Together, CCUS and CCS are becoming another new concept called, “Carbon Management”, which seems to be in our future.  This could paint a rosy picture of our future, but the big fear is that it would perpetuate the use of fossil fuels.  For decades the Carbon Management plan has been the phase-down of fossil fuels and the buildup of Renewable Energy sources.

In 2006, the State of California first passed AB32, its Global Warming Solutions Act.  The state has now passed many climate related bills lately to allow this carbon capture thinking to help meet the state’s 2050 emissions reduction goals.  It’s the first state to get this far. SB 905 was signed into law in 2022 to allow the State Air Resources board to monitor and regulate CCUS.  Another bill passed in 2021, SB 27 would set carbon removal targets for 2030 and beyond.  The state has also received $3.5 billion from BIL to construct four Carbon Direct Capture plants capable of capturing one million metric tons per year.  Another bill that has been on hold since July, SB 308, titled the “Carbon Dioxide Removal Market Development Act” is designed to include and work in addition to California’s Cap and Trade program.  The basic design will start at a low level for emitters to only compensate for 1% of their emissions in 2030 and then scale up from there to 100% by 2050.  The details are still being worked out but market-based cap and trade plans, including California’s, have been accused of being a “smoke and mirrors” venture that allows industries to continue emitting their CO2.  Steps have been taken to make this better, but the proof is still uncertain.



I am left with a disturbing feeling about negotiations on the climate change world’s stage and you may also feel something similar.  The oil companies have pushed their way into the negotiations with no thought about phasing down fossil fuels.  On the contrary, they are actually figuring out how to continue profiting from their precious assets that “will not be stranded”, as promised by many oil company executives.

New ideas are needed to work together for us to meet the goals set for reducing greenhouse gases.  The plan for the corporate use of “Carbon Management” as a panacea, without coming to the bargaining table for phasing out fossil fuel combustion, is losing the spirit of what we need to accomplish as human beings.  Carbon Management has to include other ideas like subsidizing renewable energies.  Of course, we need new technologies but managing our oil consumption while we develop new ideas would be a safer choice.  The question still remains, how much time we have for oil industry to realize the seriousness of their profiteering while we figure out a plan on our own.  Collaboration is needed here with all parties involved, including the petroleum industry, as partners in humanity.  We need to see some semblance of the human spirit in corporations of all kinds to solve the world’s problems.  

Watch for more details on this and on the outcome of COP 28 the January Environmental Report.  Participants in the official proceedings of all COPs are limited to those registered to be there.  You can follow recordings of Press Conferences and Schedule of Events and some live events at the COP28 web site even after it’s over on December 12.



Cartoons on Climate Change and Global Warming | Civic | US News

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