Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Study Quantifies Risks from CCS

The consulting firm Industrial Economics (IEc) has authored an interesting study that seeks to quantify the risks associated with CCS.  Using a Monte Carlo random sampling method, IEc conducts a risk valuation for a hypothetical CCS installation located at Jewett, TX (one of the finalist sites under the original DOE FutureGen clean coal project).  The key finding from the study is that, "Overall, estimated total damages are approximately $8.5 million (50th percentile) and $18.6 million (95th percentile)" (p. ES-19) over 100 years (in 2010 dollars).  In other words, the "most likely" estimated damages over the lifetime of the project would be $8.5 million--there is a 50% chance that damages would be above or below this figure.  "Upper end" damage estimates increase to $18.6 million--there is a 95% chance that damages would be equal to or below this figure.  Given plans for 50 million metric tons of CO2 sequestered at Jewett, these damage estimates equate to just 17 cents per metric ton (most likely) and 37 cents per metric ton (worst case).  Most damages would result from leaks at the sequestration site.

These sums are far less than damage estimates commonly put forward by opponents of CCS, and suggest that CCS risk mitigation and liability management are wholly tractable problems.  However, as IEc is quick to point out, these results are also highly dependent on site-specific factors particular to Jewett and will not be precisely replicable elsewhere.  Every actual and potential CCS site embodies a unique combination of geologic, economic, land-use, environmental, and other factors that render generic CCS risk valuations meaningless.  Nevertheless, this study demonstrates that a generic risk valuation model, applied to plausible real-world sites, can serve as a useful method for quantifying CCS risks and can produce very encouraging results.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Geologic Storage and Earthquakes?

Stanford University researchers have published an article claiming that geologic carbon storage can cause "induced seismicity" when carried out in continental interiors.  The high probability that CO2 storage in these regions will trigger earthquakes means that seal integrity is necessarily unreliable and CCS should not be deployed on a large scale.  Of course the likelihood of earthquakes also means local death and destruction, so that CCS must be regarded as a threat similar to hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" for natural gas.

In response, the Clean Air Task Force (CATF) released a statement countering these assertions.  According to CATF, existing models fail to demonstrate any link between CCS and induced seismicity; if such a link did exist, it would not apply to enormous offshore storage reservoirs; and, most importantly, no record exists of any significant seismic activity resulting from any CCS or EOR project anywhere in the world.  They conclude, "There's no question that seismic factors must be considered in the planning and permitting process for selecting carbon storage sites ... But fundamentally, we maintain the expense of overcoming any such obstacles will be minimal compared to the global costs of climate change from unmitigated industrial greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

German SPD Gives Careful Consideration to Geoengineering

Following in the footsteps of the US Congress and UK Parliament, the German Bundestag (lower house) has initiated an inquiry into geoengineering, led by the Committee on Education, Research, and Technology Assessment.  Last week, as part of this inquiry, members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) submitted a short statement and a long list of questions about geoengineering directed to the federal government.  In their statement, SPD members frame the geoengineering debate in Germany in terms of two prominent government reports from 2011, a relatively friendly report published by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and a more hostile report published by the Federal Environment Agency (for more, see Two New German Government Reports, 12/19/11).  SPD parliamentarians side firmly with the second, more critical report, declaring "This faction of the SPD supports this view" (p. 1, English translation).

This is not surprising, given the SPD's left-of-center orientation and affinities with the Greens.  What is surprising, however, is the breadth and seeming reasonableness of the questions they submit.  There are 56 questions in total ranging in topic from definitional issues, risk assessments, and current research, to patents, moratoriums, and the recent SPICE debacle (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17).  The government is even asked to offer its views concerning a UNESCO policy brief released at last year's Durban conference (see Post-Durban Wrap-Up, 12/14/11).  None of this is to suggest that the SPD is warming to the idea of geoengineering.  Rather, it suggests that opposition to geoengineering may not be as reflexive and unconsidered as it often appears, civil discussion is possible, and the potential may exist for persuasion achieved via rational discourse.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Revised Brazil Forest Code Mandates Reforestation

Brazil's new Forest Code, a revised version of the original 1965 law, will require widespread reforestation by rural landowners in the Amazon and elsewhere.  The new code represents an uneasy compromise between environmentalists striving to halt deforestation, and Brazil's powerful agricultural lobby, known as ruralistas.  One of its central components is an attempt to bring violators of the original code into compliance with forest set-aside provisions, in a way that is both environmentally responsible and pragmatic.

Under the 1965 Forest Code, private landowners were required to preserve varying amounts of native vegetation on their property, depending on the type of land:

  • 80% for land in the Amazon
  • 35% for savannah
  • 20% for other landscapes
Needless to say, there was systematic noncompliance with these rules over the decades resulting in massive deforestation.  For a number of reasons, compliance began to improve in the late 1990s, however, and the revised code seeks to lock this in.

To accomplish this, the 2012 Forest Code divides past violators into two groups.  Smallholders, who together own 90% of rural properties but only 24% of rural land area, are granted a partial amnesty and must reforest only 20% of their plots.  Ruralistas and other property owners, who hold 10% of rural properties but 76% of rural land, are not granted amnesties and must fully reforest their lands as specified by law.

Despite complaints by some environmentalists, this is an ambitious goal that, if met, would result in substantial reforestation in Brazil and significant accompanying carbon sequestration.  Given the country's problematic history of inadequate forest law enforcement and general disregard for reserve requirements, this goal will not be met in its entirety.  Yet considering the intransigence typical of large landowners and agribusiness in Brazil, the government of President Dilma Rousseff ought to be congratulated for setting the bar as high as it has and supported in its efforts to implement the updated law.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

IBI Issues First Biochar Standards

After three years of research and consultation, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) has released the first set of international biochar standards.  These "Biochar Guidelines" provide basic definitions and test methods for biochar, with the goal of introducing a minimum level of reliable product standardization in order to enable increased development of the nascent biochar industry.  Among other things, the standards establish a new framework for classifying biochar based on its carbon content:

  • Class 1 biochar - >60% carbon
  • Class 2 biochar - 30-60% carbon
  • Class 3 biochar - 10-30% carbon
IBI plans to follow up publication of these standards with a new global certification scheme designed to promote further commercialization of biochar technologies.

Friday, June 1, 2012

More on Mongstad

As noted in an earlier post (Calls Intensify for More Global Action on CCS, 5/16), a new, high-profile CCS demonstration project opened at Mongstad in Norway last month.  This new facility, known as the Technology Center Mongstad (TCM), is the largest CCS testing and development center in the world.  Work at TCM will focus on two separate post-combustion capture technologies, a chilled ammonia process and an amine process, both of which are applicable to power generation as well as industrial uses.  TCM is a joint venture between the Norwegian government, Statoil, Shell, and Sasol, and involves the participation of Alstom and Aker Clean Carbon.  Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg hosted the official opening on May 7, declaring that "TCM is a unique and complex development designed to meet global warming - the greatest challenge of our time."