Sequestration’s Nightmare

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) has been the darling of radical environmentalists for disposing of CO2 from power plants.

Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada
Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada

They have used CCS as the reason why their efforts to cut CO2 emissions won’t destroy the coal industry, or the use of coal for power generation, or why natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants, that also emit CO2, can still be used.

CCS was to be the ultimate method for disposing of CO2 without harming economies.

Some, including the coal industry, have promoted clean-coal, which is the use of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants, where coal is cooked to form gasses, from which the CO2 can be easily captured and disposed of by injecting it into geologic formations, for eternity … or, so they hope.

Now, the nightmare scenario for CCS has emerged … earthquakes.

Several years ago, radical environmentalists were touting hot-rocks (enhanced geothermal) for generating electricity.

Hot-rocks required two wells to be drilled deep into the earth, perhaps as deep as 14,000 feet. Water was to be injected down one well until it reached the rocks that were at very high temperatures, at which point the water would be turned into steam. The steam would then rise up the second well, to the surface, where it would be used to generate electricity.

Test wells in Australia were a failure.

What happened next was the coup de grâce for hot-rocks. An attempt was made near Basel, Switzerland, to drill wells for hot-rocks, but there was an earthquake and the process was abandoned.

It was clear that injecting water into the hot-rock wells might cause earthquakes.

Recently we have seen that injecting waste water into wells for disposal may also cause moderately sized earthquakes. Oklahoma has been the center of these recent earthquakes, potentially, from waste water disposal.

Some have claimed that fracking might cause tiny earthquakes, not noticeable by people.

However, CO2 has been used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) by injecting CO2 into oil wells to improve their flow, without any reported earthquakes.

In addition, sequestration has been used at three locations, Norway, Algeria and Canada, without any earthquakes being reported.

It’s entirely possible that earthquake causation, by injection of fluids into geologic formations, may depend on the quantities, pressures, time-frame and nature of the geologic formation involved.

None of these factors have received sufficient research to say with certainty whether earthquakes are induced by injection of fluids into various geologic formations, under varying conditions.

Now radical environmentalists are confronted with a quandary.

If injecting fluids into geologic formations can cause earthquakes, won’t injecting liquid CO2 at high pressures, approximately 2,000 psi, also cause earthquakes?

This is still a hypothetical question, but it clearly indicates that sequestration of huge quantities of liquid CO2, not small amounts such as with waste water disposal, but millions of tons per year, year after year, for as far into the future as one can see, might cause earthquakes.

This is CCS’s nightmare. It could put an end to any possibility of sequestering CO2 in geologic formations, which was supposed to be how CO2 could be disposed of forever.

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