Sunday, September 30, 2012

Global CCS Institute Pleads for Less Renewables Support

In a recent address before the European Commission's Directorate-General for Energy, Brad Page, CEO of the Global CCS Institute, made the case that public support for renewable energy is working against CCS development.  Speaking before the energy office's "CCS Roundtable: Addressing the Short-Term Challenges for the CCS Demonstration Program," Page asserted that "government action to encourage renewable energy is distorting the operation of otherwise efficient energy markets.  It also distorts the development of new and emerging technologies often favouring ultimately more expensive alternatives.  Increasingly CCS appears to be a victim of this reality."  He continued: "In our view, government policy to support the development and deployment of low and zero emission technologies ... should move back from favouring particular technologies.  Policy settings need to be more neutral."  The Institute is not simply an interest group active in European energy policy, but serves as the official secretariat for the European CCS Demonstration Project Network, so it will be interesting to see what repercussions if any follow from this speech.

Friday, September 28, 2012

UK Government Officially Supports Research

The UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) has announced official government support for research into climate engineering.  In a new internet posting, DECC states,

Should the need ever arise to deploy geo-engineering techniques in the future, a thorough understanding of all the options available to counteract dangerous climate change and knowledge of their risks and benefits will be needed.  This understanding can only be developed through relevant, careful and responsible multi-disciplinary research.  The Government is supportive of the need to undertake such studies, in accordance with Decision X/33 and Article 14 of the CBD and relevant agreements such as the London Convention and its Protocol.

(CBD Decision X/33 refers to the limited, conditional moratorium adopted in 2010--see The Meaning of the Moratorium, 10/31/10--and Article 14 refers to minimizing adverse environmental impacts.  The London Convention/London Protocol has adopted an ocean fertilization research assessment framework potentially adaptable to other geoengineering techniques--see LC/LP Agrees on Ocean Fertilization Assessment Framework, 10/19/10.)

Government affirmation of support for geoengineering research is important because it helps to mainstream and legitimize an otherwise controversial field.  Public affirmation is particularly important following the recent cancellation of the government-funded SPICE stratospheric aerosol technology field test (see SPICE Field Test Cancelled, 5/17), which has cast a pall over research efforts on both sides of the Atlantic.  The ultimate significance of this newly clarified position will depend on whether additional government funding is forthcoming, as well as whether this British decision opens the way for other Western government agencies (US DOE?) to take stronger measures in support of geoengineering research.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Call for Immediate Arctic Deployment Dismissed by UK Parliamentary Committee

Last February, the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee held a public hearing on the threat to the Arctic posed by global climate change (see Environmental Audit Committee Hearing in the UK, 2/25).  At this hearing, members of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) appealed for immediate Arctic geoengineering to avert the disappearance of summer sea-ice, permafrost thaw, and a possible "methane bomb."  AMEG's call received a cool reception at the hearing, and an official committee report released last week echoes this initial skepticism.  On the question of geoengineering, the committee concludes:

Geo-engineering techniques for the Arctic at present do not offer a credible long-term solution for tackling climate change.  Further research is needed to understand how such techniques work and their wider impacts on climate systems.  In the meantime, therefore, we remain unconvinced that using 'technical fixes' is the right approach and efforts should not be diverted from tackling the fundamental drivers of climate change. (23, boldface original)

In public relations terms, the timing of this release was particularly unfortunate, since last week also saw official word from the the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that Arctic sea-ice receded to the lowest extent ever recorded in September, a disturbing milestone that was widely reported in the scientific and popular press.

All this perfectly illustrates the wrongheadedness of AMEG's approach.  By adopting a maximalist position of geoengineering deployment now, AMEG and its sympathizers left MPs no real choice but to reject geoengineering as a plausible strategy for coping with rapid warming in the Arctic.  As indicated above, some members of the committee actually expressed willingness to support intensified research into climate engineering, but this of course is insufficient from AMEG's point of view, and, confronted with a demand to deploy immediately, parliamentarians unsurprisingly responded in the negative.  As a result, geoengineering emerges tarred in the public sphere, at a tragically opportune moment that might otherwise have served to galvanize support for expanded geoengineering research.

This sequence of events hardly dooms the push for accelerated research, and indeed is unlikely to have any meaningful repercussions beyond the short term.  Yet it does underline the need for greater political sophistication on the part of a small but vocal segment of the geoengineering community.  More importantly, this episode underscores the continuing need for the cautious and sensible majority of the community to disavow alarmism, distance themselves from extreme proposals, and make the reasoned and right case for more geoengineering research now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

WWF Supports Geoengineering Research

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), arguably the world's most influential environmental group, now cautiously supports research into geoengineering strategies to cope with global climate change.  Earlier this week on the Huffington Post, Jon Taylor, Climate Change Program Manager at WWF-UK, framed the dilemma geoengineering presents for organizations like WWF in the following terms: "Clearly in a perfect world we wouldn't support the idea of deliberately tampering with the Earth's atmosphere.  But to paraphrase the old joke, if you were to ask us how to get to a sustainable future, we wouldn't start from here."  In light of current atmospheric carbon concentrations and likely future trajectories, Taylor continues, "alongside our main efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through smarter use of sustainable energy and through reducing and reversing deforestation, WWF is cautiously supporting research into geo-engineering approaches in order to find out what is possible."

This is a significant development.  WWF is a major player in global environmental politics, helps set the pace for many other environmental and conservation NGOs, and serves as a critical point of reference for concerned citizens across the globe.  It is clear from the post that WWF is not enthusiastic about climate engineering, and that it is much less comfortable with SRM compared to CDR techniques (indeed, WWF has expressed support for some carbon removal methods on previous occasions).  It also remains to be seen how such a position articulated by WWF-UK will be received by other members of the international WWF network.  But as an organizational statement of principled support for research into geoengineering, both CDR and SRM, this marks an important step forward in the global discussion on the urgency of responsible research and testing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

CO2-EOR Pushes Pipelines Across US Rocky Mountain West

The continuing spread of enhanced oil recovery using CO2 (CO2-EOR) in the US is resulting in expansions to existing CO2 pipeline networks, particularly in the northern Rocky Mountains.  Two recent cases illustrate this development.  The first involves the August restart of construction on the 232-mile Greencore pipeline running from the ConocoPhillips Lost Cabin gas plant in Wyoming to the Bell Creek oilfield in Montana (an auxiliary line will also transport CO2 to the Cedar Creek Anticline field).  Denbury Resources plans to spend an estimated $275-$325 million to complete the pipeline, which will have a capacity of 700 million cubic feet per day.  Construction on the Greencore pipeline is permitted only between August and November each year due to federal wildlife protection rules.

Also in Wyoming, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) granted final approval in July to Elk Petroleum for a new EOR project at the Grieve oilfield near Casper.  Elk co-owns the field with Denbury Resources, and Denbury will capitalize on its pipeline experience by building a three-mile extension line from the pre-existing Anadarko CO2 pipeline.  The Grieve project is expected to be operational by November.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

New Study Reiterates Affordability of Stratospheric Aerosol Systems

A new cost analysis of various stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) systems provides additional, up-to-date evidence that deploying such systems looks to be a relatively cheap proposition.  Using cost models adapted from the aerospace industry, the study's authors calculate cost estimates for six potential delivery systems: existing airplanes, new airplanes, blimps, rockets, guns, and pipe-balloon platforms (as considered by the SPICE project).  Based on a dispersion rate of 1 million metric tonnes of sulfur dioxide per year, new airplanes specifically designed for SAI payload delivery appear to be the most cost-effective technology option, with yearly costs estimated at between $1 billion and $2 billion (existing aircraft would cost slightly more, in the range of $1 billion to $3 billion).  Pipe-balloon systems are estimated to cost between $4 billion and $10 billion per year, while rocket-powered gliders are estimated to be the most expensive (and least feasible) option costing approximately $390 billion per year.

Aside from these various estimates, which the authors are careful to note reflect many uncertainties, the overarching point of the analysis is that the costs of SAI geoengineering are likely to represent a tiny fraction of the costs associated with either unmitigated climate change or a program of robust emissions abatement.  As the authors put it, "When SRM is considered as one element of climate strategy that also includes mitigation and adaptation, it is meaningful to compare costs and in this sense one can conclude that the cost of SRM deployment of quantities sufficient to alter radiative forcing by an amount roughly equivalent to the growth of anticipated GHG forcing over the next half century is low ..." (pp. 6-7).  This is not to say that SAI or other forms of geoengineering should be pursued at the expense of mitigation, but rather that SAI and other technologies offer complementary strategies that policymakers cannot afford to ignore.