Is carbon capture and storage coming to Canada?

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Source: GLOBE SERIES

According to a report just released by a government-commissioned panel, Canadian governments generally should spend close to $2 billion to encourage carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report echoes recent plans by the Government of Alberta to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions in this manner. Unfortunately real world testing of CCS technologies, such as a project now underway in Weyburn Saskatchewan, indicates that such systems may not be foolproof, though they certainly will be expensive.

According to the panel, chaired by Steve Snyder, president of TransAlta Corp., a North American power generation and wholesale marketing company, carbon capture is a good method of curbing emissions while continuing to make economic progress. The panel said government funding in the order of $2 billion would be required to properly develop CCS technology and suggested an offsetting tax may be necessary. The panel estimates government funding of this magnitude would help get three to five projects operational by 2015.

Canada possesses the technology, geology, and expertise to be a world leader in the development and implementation of CCS technology, the report states. 'But as with any new environmental technology, a financial gap exists between the cost of a plant with CCS and what would otherwise be built to produce the same industrial outputs.'

The federal government has stated clearly that Canada will not be able to meet its obligations under the Kyoto protocol on climate change. The government now looks to technological innovations, many of which have yet to get off the ground in a large-scale commercial way, to help address the problem of GHG emissions reduction.

Carbon capture and storage involves separating carbon dioxide from emissions generated by large industrial or energy-producing facilities, particularly oil operations. The carbon dioxide is then compressed and injected into porous rock formations deep underground.

Since July of 2000, Weyburn, Saskatchewan has been home to one of the largest carbon capture and storage test facility in the world. Through a 330 km long pipeline, the Weyburn facility takes carbon dioxide produced by a coal plant in Beulah, North Dakota and injects it into Saskatchewan bedrock. The intent of the facility is to test the potential for long-term carbon storage.

According to a recent interview in Canadian Geographic magazine, Carolyn K. Preston, Executive Director of the Petroleum Technology Research Centre (PTRC), noted potential carbon dioxide storage at the Weyburn facility is equivalent to removing 8 million cars from the road for an entire year.

The PTRC is a not-for-profit research and development organization that specializes in carbon storage and is managing the Weyburn test project.

The subterranean storage of carbon dioxide also allows for more oil to be recovered from the EnCana operated Weyburn oil field. Through what is known as Enhanced Oil Recovery, the addition of carbon dioxide helps push deeper oil reserves closer to the surface.

Despite the measures undertaken to date, the technology of carbon sequestration is still in its infancy and is expensive. It will require major retrofitting of existing coal plants and oil operations.

In fact the technology is still considered unproven and will require several more years of study to fully understand the true impacts of placing so much carbon dioxide underground. Serious questions of stability and carbon leakage have yet to be answered.

In October 2007, the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin received a 10-year, $38 million subcontract to conduct the first intensively monitored, long-term project in the United States studying the feasibility of injecting a large volume of CO2 for underground storage.

The project is a research program of the Southeast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB), funded by the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The SECARB partnership will demonstrate carbon injection rate and storage capacity in the Tuscaloosa-Woodbine geologic system that stretches from Texas to Florida. Experimental equipment will measure the ability of the subsurface to accept and retain carbon dioxide.

The Pembina Institute, an environmental group focused on climate change policy issues, has expressed many concerns, saying carbon capture should not be used as a replacement for having large polluters - such as Alberta’s oil sands producers -reduce their emissions of the greenhouse gases.

Some environmentalists argue that carbon capture and storage is an energy intensive exercise that supports the continued use of fossil fuels for energy and that government money would be better spent on renewable energy research and development.

In summary, the jury is still out on the matter, and while increased government support will certainly help speed up the process of technology development and evaluation, there is still much that has to be done before CCS technology can be brought on line on a scale that will make a real difference in terms of GHG emission reductions.

EnCana, a proud sponsor of GLOBE 2008, the 10th GLOBE Conference and Trade Fair on Business and the Environment to be held in Vancouver from March 12 to 14, 2008, will feature a key session on Climate Change & Energy which will discuss climate change solutions including carbon capture and storage. Gerard Protti, Executive Vice-President, Corporate relations of EnCana is a featured speaker of GLOBE 2008.

For more information visit the GLOBE 2008 Website.

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