Carbon capture and storage technology is not sexy. (Anyone who tells you it is has some weird fetishes.) But, sexy or not, there are signs of progress that may push the technology forward.
For those unfamiliar with CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage, or Carbon Capture and Sequestration), it is essentially a complicated process where traditional energy sources have their emissions captured and are then stored underground. This makes sources like coal much cleaner, and can lead to increased natural gas production, though it is expensive.
Still, without regulatory certainty and environmental regulations, investment in the technology is slow to come. But now progress has been made that many hope will speed up that process. Regulation is probably the one thing that is less sexy than carbon capture and storage, but you can’t move forward on the latter without first dealing with the former.
This week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made two key decisions about carbon capture and storage regulation. The two new rules deal with drinking water protections and a measuring system for tracking the amount of carbon dioxide that is sequestered from facilities that separate emissions from their source. In theory, if you can’t measure the trapped carbon emissions with a system that everyone agrees upon and understands, people won't care about or invest in this potentially new and groundbreaking technology. Additionally, investors and developers will be less likely to jump into the CCS game if there is uncertainty surrounding water regulation.
1. Drinking water protection rule
The EPA finalized a rule that sets requirements for geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, including the development of a new class of injection well called Class VI, established under EPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The rule requirements are designed to ensure that wells used for geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide are appropriately sited, constructed, tested, monitored and closed. The UIC Program was established under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
2. Greenhouse gas reporting rule
The EPA also finalized a rule on the greenhouse gas reporting requirements for facilities that carry out geologic sequestration. Information gathered under the greenhouse gas reporting program will enable the EPA to track the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered by these facilities. The program was established in 2009 under authority of the Clean Air Act and requires reporting of greenhouse gases from various source categories in the United States.
The EPA’s two steps this week on CCS represent progress for President Obama, whose task force on CSS recommended that the water and measuring question be sorted out. The group was assigned the goal of outlining what steps are necessary for CCS to become a financially viable energy option and implementing those steps in the next decade. While a lot more will have to happen for this reality to come true, it is safe to say that CCS is now much closer to becoming a real energy alternative than it was just a week ago.