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Battle over carbon capture as tool to fight climate change

Battle over carbon capture as tool to fight climate change

Polly Glover realized her son had asthma when he was nine months old. Now 26, he carries his inhaler in his pocket whenever he’s outside in Prairieville, Louisiana, part of Ascension Parish.

“Perhaps he needs to leave Ascension quite frankly,” Glover says, but he hasn’t because “this is his home and this is our family and this is our community.”

The parish is part of an 85-mile (137-kilometre) stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge officially called the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, more commonly known as Cancer Alley. The area’s air quality is among the worst in the United States, and in several places along the corridor, cancer risks are well above levels considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The air is “terrible” where they live, Glover says, but there is also great biodiversity — eagles, eagles, migratory birds, deer, rabbits, fish, and crocodiles — among the region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands. The environmental advocate has been working for 30 years to preserve the place she loved since childhood.

That’s why she’s concerned about anything that could make air quality worse or threaten wildlife — and her biggest fear right now is that a $4.5 billion plant designed to capture climate-changing carbon and make clean hydrogen fuel will further damage the lake. Moripas Basin.

The blue hydrogen power plant is to be built and operated by Air Products and Chemicals, a multinational petrochemical company. The company says the plant will capture airborne carbon emissions that arise during production and put them safely underground — a process called carbon capture and storage.

“Sometimes, I think people think you’re kind of like a bubble at the bottom of the lake,” said Simon Moore, vice president of investor relations, corporate relations and sustainability at Air Products. “You know, that’s about a mile below the surface of the Earth, where the geological formation of the rock has this pore space, which simply absorbs carbon dioxide.”

Still, Glover is concerned. I am not a scholar. “I’m a mother who cares,” she said. “We have to be better stewards of the environment, and while reducing carbon emissions is essential, injecting them into the aquarium is not the answer.”

There are several other CCS projects proposed or underway throughout the United States, including in Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and California. The companies behind them assert that they can successfully remove carbon from the air to reduce pollution, and then transport and store the carbon safely underground — or do both.

In some cases, oil and gas companies are relying on this new technology to either help build new profit centers, such as plants that produce hydrogen, or extend the life of their fossil fuel facilities.

Carbon capture and storage projects have been gaining momentum since Congress approved $3.5 billion for them last year. Called the CCS Global Institute of Technology, it is a think-tank that seeks to promote these projects globally “The largest single allocation of money to carbon dioxide capture and storage in the history of technology.”

In the latest report From the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading scientists said CCS technology must be part of the package of solutions to decarbonize and mitigate climate change. But they said solar, wind and electricity storage are improving faster than carbon capture and storage.

Opponents of CCS assert that the technology is unproven and has been less effective than alternatives such as solar and wind in removing carbon from the energy sector.

“Carbon sequestration is neither practical nor feasible,” said Basav Sen, director of climate justice policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. Do.”

study In late 2020 by researchers from the University of California, San Diego, they found that more than 80% of 39 projects that sought to commercialize CCS ended in failure. The study cited a lack of technological readiness as a major factor

But even if the technology is successfully deployed, many critics say the projects will pose public health threats to communities long plagued by air and water pollution.

First, they said, any project that extends the life of an existing industrial facility presents additional environmental damage by prolonging the amount of time it pollutes a community, which the IPCC report confirms.

Second, they note that because carbon capture will require more energy to operate the equipment, it will lead to more air pollution because the technology can only capture a portion of the carbon emitted by the facility.

Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at MIT and a pioneer in carbon capture and storage technology, disputed this in an interview with The Associated Press. However, he acknowledged that there are risks in the transfer and storage of carbon.

In 2020, a pipeline carrying pressurized carbon dioxide ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi, injuring more than 40 people. For hospital treatment and more than 300 to evacuate. The incident has been cited by experts, advocates and residents who live near the proposed CCS projects to illustrate the potential risks of long-distance carbon transfer.

Injecting carbon underground for storage may pollute aquifers, according to Nikki Reich, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law.

More than 500 environmental organizations, including the Law Center, signed an open letter published in The Washington Post In July 2021, he called carbon capture and storage a “false solution”.

In response, the Carbon Sequestration Alliance, which advocates for this technology, released its own technology Speech in August with more than 100 sites. And they lobbied Congress to include CCS investment in any upcoming legislation.

Technology is essential to achieving mid-century climate goals, said Matt Fry, director of state and regional policy at the Great Plains Institute, a climate and energy think tank in Minneapolis.

“The potential for a completely electrified, carbon-neutral world is a reality,” Frey said. “But we will need to move to get there. And it will require carbon capture to address those emissions.”

Herzog said the technology poses a “very low” threat to public health at the point of its capture. He added, “There’s always a chance of some accidents happening, but on a general level for chemical plants, (technology) is fairly benign.”

However, residents near the proposed projects are concerned.

In California’s Central Valley agricultural region, Chevron, Microsoft and Schlumberger New Energy are teaming up to build a facility in Mendota that will generate energy by converting agricultural waste into carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas, then mixing it with oxygen to generate electricity with the promise of capturing 99% of the carbon. from the process.

Chevron said it plans to inject carbon “underground into nearby deep geologic formations.”

This is concerning for Benjamin Martinez, who lives in the valley and is director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “This worries us a lot,” she said. “What does that mean in terms of drinking water contamination risks?”

Creighton Welch, a Chevron spokesperson, said the process they plan to use is safe. “Capture, injection and storage of CO2 are not new technologies and have been done safely for decades,” Welch said.

Back in Louisiana, Glover and other residents also fear that carbon capture technology will affect the water. The carbon dioxide captured at the Air Products and Chemicals facility will be stored in locations such as under Lake Maurepas, an important wetland.

It’s a buffer zone between the Gulf of Mexico and residents, said Kim Coates, who lives on the northeast side of the lake. But she said she has witnessed generations of devastation inflicted on this ecosystem by industrial development and, most recently, hurricanes and tropical storms.

Now Coates fears more of the same if carbon is stored under the lake. “We have seen the devastation over time with no one looking forward to what will happen in the future,” she said.


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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Division of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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