State Seeks to Capture Carbon and Store Underground

Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced yesterday it is working to explore and promote Carbon Sequestration. The process seeks to capture and store carbon dioxide produced from the burning of fossil fuels.

Pile of Coal The department is accepting bids for contracts to investigate sites in Pennsylvania as suitable holding cells for the captured CO2. The work would consist primarily of mapping out geologic formations below the earth’s surface to determine the most suitable spots for storing the gases. The bid deadline is Feb. 20.  

Pennsylvania is among the most polluting of US states, ranking third in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. It is estimated the state produces 1 percent of the world’s total climate change pollutants. The carbon capture and storage plan is an effort to improve the state’s standing and combat climate change.  

The CO2 – a major cause of global warming – would be stored about a half mile underground and come mainly from coal fired and other fossil fueled electrical plants. A risk assessment and cost study are set to begin this spring.

The theory behind carbon sequestration evokes the film Armageddon, in which Bruce Willis and Ben Afleck attempt to save humanity from a Texas-sized asteroid careening toward earth. The space-suited team drills deep into the oncoming rock to destroy it from within.

If that asteroid well represents our approaching climate crisis, then our attempt to burrow carbon deep within the earth is our attempt to thwart its approach.

Then again, their plan included dropping a nuke into the heart of the rock, and one hopes sequestering gases far below the earth’s crust avoids such volatile effects.  Yet carbon sequestration as a successful practice lies itself largely within the realm of science fiction. Little is known of the long-term effects and effectiveness of the process.

The idea of drilling deep within the earth and imprisoning potentially hazardous gases within is on the whole an untested proposition, seemingly inspired by the landfill model – out of sight, out of mind. 

Landfills seek to contain potentially hazardous chemicals and materials contained within from leeching into the surrounding environment.  They also serve the dubious function of hiding mountains of trash from public view, and thus prevent the consequences of our throw-away society from leeching into the public consciousness.   

Worker Shovelling CoalYet sweeping things under a rug never proved a long term solution, and the real danger of carbon sequestration may lie in its fostering the myth that we can still get something for nothing in terms of our energy use. Why conserve energy or pursue renewables, after all, when all that dirty stuff is being sent underground?

Carbon sequestration may evolve into a feel-good and easy fix, one that delays setting out on the hard work ahead.  In lieu of carrying on the difficult labor of changing attitudes and behaviors, of adopting efficiency, alternative energy and conservation measures, we may come to see coal as clean and forget and neglect all that troublesome business.

With the slew of ad campaigns touting clean coal technologies that are largely still science fiction, we seem to be edging closer to taking that easier (and dirtier) fork in the road.

Photo Credit (Coal Shoveller) http://flickr.com/photos/indigogoat/128492062/

Photot Credit (Coal) http://flickr.com/photos/sic/38170143/

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