Environmental Report for 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 COP 28 in Dubai, UAE.  It’s all about what is being done and not being done to mitigate climate change.  The subject of this report is purposely sandwiched between the two COP 28 Reports (September & January).  

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.   

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 wily 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 new techniques.  It would seem to be best to consider 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, while oil companies still hold the world hostage to fossil fuels.  It probably is the best answer for the petroleum industry. 

The world is looking at COP 28 in the UAE this year with an oil man in charge of proceedings, Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, CEO of Abu Dabei 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 climate science because he now seems to be very aware and concerned about climate change science.  In a previous pre-COP 28 meeting he was not aware of the science and sounded very much like any other typical oil CEO!  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.  


Types of CCS: make it 2nd paragraph?

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 form 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 pH spectrum causing ocean acidification.  This is already happening and creating a multitude of localized problems with species like corrals.

So, we are now looking at geologic sequestering of Carbon to solve our problems.  There are several ways to accomplish this, but all 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 – capture, transport, store.  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 that separates CO2 from the flue gas in a steam boiler used to produce power.  Basically, grabbing CO2 as fossil fuel burns. 
  • Use of adsorption (the ability to hold certain molecules on its surface) to capture CO2 with a solid sorbent material, also used in power plants.  
  • Pre-combustion CO2 capture that combines steam and oxygen to produce a synthesis gas that allows CO2 too be drawn 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 have, somewhat quietly, let it be known that they 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.  They seek out a geologically suitable site to made into a hub for pumping CO2 into a formation that is usually 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 the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The subject of capturing Carbon is front and center at COP 28.  Environmentalists question the ability to guarantee the safety of such wells and the relative ease the EPA is allowing the petroleum industy to continue producing oil and gas and to continue using fossil fuels to power their own rigs and other facilities.  The “capture” and “sequester” parts of the technology are fraught with issues.  


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 using the 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 become “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. 


In 2006, the State of California first passed AB32, its Global Warming Solutions Act.  The state has now passed several climate related bills 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 gillion 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.  



If you are left with a disturbing or, at least, an uneasy feeling about what the negotiations on the climate change world’s stage, then you’ve comprehended correctly where we are in this.  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 left in the ground”, as promised by ExxonMobil.

New ideas are needed to work together in order for us to meet the goals set for reducing greenhouse gases.  The plan for CCS 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.  The question still remains, how much time we have for oil industry practice to get it right.   

Watch for more details on this and on the outcome of COP 28 in January.  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 COP 28 web site.



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

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