Money and climate

 

Ah, money. During one of the biggest shopping times of the year, after spending Thanksgiving morning rolling stacks of coins with the kids, my thoughts turn to it, naturally. Or maybe unnaturally; what was mostly on my mind was the high cost of doing something to slow climate change. Specifically, I was thinking about carbon capture.

Carbon capture is just what it sounds like: taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. It's a great idea, capturing the CO2 from a coal-fired power plant before it gets into the atmosphere. I always imagine a giant sock-like apparatus on top of a smokestack, billowing and bulging up as carbon dioxide fills it. (Disclaimer: That's not actually how it works.)

Of course, like all great ideas, this one comes with a catch. Whether it's a giant sock or a solvent capturing CO2 from a "slipstream of flue gas," as the Department of Energy describes its new test project, capturing carbon is very, very expensive. That's why the DOE project, part of its Post-Combustion Carbon Capture Center (PC4), is testing out new technologies -- so that industry can have some cost-effective options some day in the future.

The carbon capture project at E.C. Gaston plant in Alabama.

A recent article in the Financial Times described cost problems in Europe too, where both British and EU grants to fund installation of capture technology on power plants have gone unclaimed by power plants.

"This is because a chief problem of CCS is not its technical feasibility: different industries have been using bits of the technology for years. Combining it on a power plant in a way that makes financial sense is fantastically troublesome, however," FT reports. That's because there's both a big upfront cost and ongoing costs, such as the fact that running a capture facility on the power plant steals away some of the power it is trying to sell.

One possible solution mentioned in the article: instead of big grants to start up a CCS project, a combination of one-time grants and longer term subsidies, such as those given to biofuels, wind, or solar.

Another, mentioned in a Bloomberg story focusing on Scotland: put that CO2 to use to improve oil extraction, which can make lots of money for whoever owns the oil. This technique is already used in the Permian Basin, although, ironically, the carbon dioxide used, rather than being captured, is mined from the ground in southwest Colorado.

In one Canadian oilfield, however, the CO2 used in enhancing oil extraction is captured from a nearby coal gasification plant across the border in North Dakota.

This brings me to one of the funny ironies of carbon capture and storage: one of the best places to store CO2 is likely to be just where we found it: the oil fields. In Europe, both Norway and the Netherlands have competing plans to take CO2 from other countries and inject it into reservoirs in the North Sea that once held oil, for both storage and enhanced recovery of the oil and natural gas that remains.

Norway also just opened a $1 billion capture project, the largest such test facility for carbon storage in the world. The Scandinavian country is investing in carbon capture in part because it wants its fossil fuel industries to continue to do well. Basically, it's saying: we want to keep selling oil and natural gas, because they are profitable and make us one of the richest countries in the world, but in our increasingly carbon saturated world, if we're going to do that, we may also need to be responsible for where the carbon dioxide from those resources ultimately ends up.

Of course, Norway can afford to do that. The fossil fuel-rich nation is one of the richest countries in the world.

The United States, recently reported to become one of the biggest oil exporters in the world, is, too.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn is the online editor at High Country News.

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....