Carbon Capture vs. Renewables — Why The Lawyers Will Win


Carbon dioxide air emissions is one of the big issues in global warming debate. However, before you start controlling by putting the carbon in the ground, you first have to put lawyers in a room to argue. After a year that saw billions of dollars spent around a variety of carbon capture and storage pilot projects, the focus in 2010 will shift from press conferences and engineering discussion to court cases and conference tables.

Everyone has an opinion on what is the right thing to do in global warming. Far from just an engineering decision the task of making technology an effective weapon in the fight against climate change will take a lot more than working out funding details and letting the engineers work.

This is an issue not just in the USA but world wide. The recent Copenhagen meeting has shown us that everyone is resisting making any necessary reduction in carbon dioxide air emissions. All prefer someone else to be cut first.

In Canada there are the carbon dioxide producing provinces in the west such as Alberta and the consumers in the east such as Ontario and Quebec.

“At the same the governments of Canada and Alberta are providing significant subsidies for carbon capture and storage, we haven’t even announced an outline for a national approach to reducing greenhouse gases,” says Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute, an environmental think tank.

In October, Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited a coal-fired power plant west of Edmonton to unveil $779 million in federal and provincial money for a project that could, in about five years, be injecting about one million tons of CO2 deep underground every year.  The previous week, Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt was in Edmonton to announce an $865 million federal-provincial subsidy for a $1.35-billion carbon capture and storage project at the Shell’s Scotford oil sands upgrade.  The companies involved in the projects combined will have to put up about $1 billion of their own money for things to go ahead.  The soonest any of these projects is expected to begin actually storing carbon is Saskatchewan’s relatively small refinery project in 2013. None of the Alberta projects start shooting gas underground until two years later. And that’s if they pass corporate muster, winning approval from the various company boards involved in the work as well as any local resistance from injecting the carbon dioxide into the ground in the first place.

“We don’t have regulations in place to reduce pollution, we’re not investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency,” he says. “It seems like governments are focusing on subsidizing end-of-pipe pollution control at the expense of all the other opportunities out there.”

Environmentalists in Canada point out that other countries, including the United States, are spending far more on renewables and conservation. Without the kind of public support now focused almost entirely on carbon capture and storage, they warn Canada will miss out on the energy opportunities of a post-carbon economy.

Yet renewable sources or conservation are not options that will automatically solve all problems by themselves. Renewable energy sources have their problems too. Many object to the giant wind mills for example as unsightly or dangerous to birds. Hydroelectric dams may cause cause other environmental stress or lose valuable ecosystems to a new lake.

As can be seen there are a number of options available to reduce and control air emissions. The problem in Canada as well as the US and elsewhere is that every option has its supporters often at the detriment of other options. What is needed is a balanced approach that both reduces and controls carbon dioxide air emissions.

Most agree that carbon capture and storage can play a role especially for large industrial emitters that send most of their CO2 out as a single source such as a smokestack. Coal-fired power plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan are natural places for such technology, especially since the geology of two provinces seems to offer plenty of underground formations to stash the gas. Not every site in the world offers such advantages.  These advantages should not be lost as other options are pursued.

The lawyers will be discussing the pros and cons for a long time.

Article by Andy Soos, appearing courtesy of ENN

[photo credit: Vattenfall]

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  1. As the author indicates, the world is missing the point. Rather than reduce or eliminate CO2 emissions, the world would rather just talk about it. Even argue against it with weak arguments like “wind generators are dangerous to birds”. (You can put a cage around the windmill blades so birds can’t get hit, and Darwinism explains any bird dumb enough to fly into that.) But it’s easier to just talk about improving emissions than actually doing it. Not cheaper though – lawyers cost lots more than developing solutions. Buying and selling carbon credits is a similar scam. If we want to solve our CO2 emissions problem then we have to DO it, not just talk about it.