We Need to Ditch Our Filthiest Source of Energy: Coal

47

By Michael Grunwald

 

Global warming is a terribly complex problem. It’s really a slew of problems: carbon problems and methane problems, electricity problems and fuel problems, sprawl problems and deforestation problems, supply problems and demand problems. We waste too much power, we eat too much meat, we drive too much, we fly too much, we plug in too many gadgets, and we get way too much of our energy from fossil fuels. The expansion of energy options in the developing world, a godsend for billions of people, will further complicate many of those problems.

It can all seem overwhelming. But for the next decade or so, America’s main challenge is relatively simple, because our biggest problem is also our most solvable problem. That problem is coal. It’s our filthiest source of energy, producing one fourth of our emissions and three fourths of our emissions from electricity, despite producing less than 40 percent of our electricity. We need to burn a lot less of it.

This is why President Obama’s new effort to limit carbon emissions at power plants is so important—and, as I wrote last week, so potentially disappointing. Coal provides our best opportunity for major short-term emissions cuts; our coal plants have already slashed generation by 20 percent since 2005, and another 10 percent of the U.S. coal fleet is already scheduled for retirement. But Obama’s Clean Power Plan only envisions a 30 percent overall drop in coal power from 2005 levels by 2030, which would barely move the needle. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy did suggest to me that her agency’s proposed regulations will do much more than than her agency’s forecasts imply, but there’s not much in the Clean Power Plan that would suggest a major crackdown on coal.

Instead, the EPA projects that we would still get more than 30 percent of our power from coal in 2030. That would be a catastrophe. Coal plants emit twice as much carbon as natural gas, and infinitely more carbon than wind, solar, nuclear and other zero-emissions sources of power. They are also public health nightmares, fouling our air with mercury, soot, and other toxics, shrouding cities in smog and triggering asthma attacks among children. And the coal we burn in our power plants—unlike the petroleum we burn in our vehicles—can be easily and inexpensively replaced without changing our behaviors or disrupting our economy.

47 COMMENTS

  1. While a great idea, it would be so damn hard to get people to line up behind this. I work in OH, PA and WV, those states regularly sport vehicles with stickers “proud son of a coal miner”, “coal miners dig it the deepest” or some other such things to invoke a feeling of lewd pride or virility, naturally anything the small minded are amused by.
    And it’s those same small minded that will vociferously oppose any removal of their livelihood, we haven’t even approached the lobbyists who will become a goddamn unmovable rock and claim he liberals are out to destroy good, honest, American jobs….
    So before an announcement is even made concerning: “this needs to stop”, you need to consider the audience, the replacement jobs and make as good a preparation for reaction, retaliation and bullshit anti-propaganda.

    • While a great idea, it would be so damn hard to get people to line up behind this. I work in OH, PA and WV, those states regularly sport vehicles with stickers “proud son of a coal miner”, “coal miners dig it the deepest” or some other such things to invoke a feeling of lewd pride or virility, naturally anything the small minded are amused by.

      You are indeed right that it is to boost the egos of the small minded, that has them posing behind big guns, crude big vehicles, and displays of crude lazy waste of resources.

      As I have pointed out before, it is the macho-posers in American (and other) politics who are the long term problem. This could have been solved decades ago, but for the primitive macho militaristic mentality of “My bomb is bigger than your bomb”!

      http://richarddawkins.net/2014/05/fusion-fission-and-fossil-fuels/
      what many people think is the ideal nuclear power reactor. This is the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR). It is cheaper, cleaner, and far safer than uranium reactors. There would have been no accidents at Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, or Fukushima had those reactors been LFTRs.
      The U.S. has had a working thorium technology since 1945, but the project was cancelled by the Nixon administration in 1969 because it lacked military applications. We would have no problem with nuclear proliferation if we simply allowed Iran and other countries to build LFTRs.

      So before an announcement is even made concerning: “this needs to stop”, you need to consider the audience, the replacement jobs and make as good a preparation for reaction, retaliation and bullshit anti-propaganda.

      The replacement jobs are there, but at present many of them are being handed to the Chinese.

      http://cleantechnica.com/2014/04/05/china-1-renewable-energy-investment-us-2-japan-3-chart/

      Don’t let all those Texas wind farms and massive installations of solar panels in California fool you.
      The U.S. is not the world leader in clean energy investment.

      China is.

      For the second year, an annual Pew Charitable Trusts report, “Who’s Winning the Clean Energy Race?”, shows that China is the world leader in clean energy investment, with $54 billion in investments in renewables in 2013, well above total U.S. investment of $36.7 billion.

      The graphs on the link show green energy investment by countries.

    • I’ve mentioned on another thread that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology could make a major dent in CO2 emissions, at least in the short term to limit damage whilst we switch to a non-carbon energy system in the longer term (which in reality, as stated in the OP, is likely to take decades unfortunately). It would also get around a lot of these ‘political’ problems without the need to clone an army of Thatchers to suck the will to live out of the global coal mining communities. This is only briefly mentioned as an option in the OP where they say fledgling technologies that could help coal plants capture and store their carbon underground have remained stubbornly expensive. Maybe subsidy or emissions taxation could change the industry view on the economics of this.

      • @ Steve – I’ve mentioned on another thread that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology could make a major dent in CO2 emissions, at least in the short term to limit damage whilst we switch to a non-carbon energy system in the longer term

        That could reduce CO2 emissions, but from a long term timetabling and financial point of view, potentially near-zero carbon emissions (ie. constructed by low carbon processes as well as operated by low carbon processes), are better than small reductions from sequestration, gas-fracking etc.

        It probably takes around as long to set up a carbon capture system, as it does to build a tidal turbine farm, or a solar thermal plant.

        • Hi Alan, capture and sequestration technology would reduced CO2 emissions from coal reportedly by around 85-90% so its not a small reduction. Switching from coal to gas (probably requiring fracing for the gas supply in many cases) would save 50% of emissions straight off over coal – plus if you then add CCS to the gas plants there is a further reduction of 85-90% on total CO2 emissions. These are not small reductions and could form achievable ways to hit the 80% global CO2 reductions by 2050 target whilst moving towards fully carbon-free energy. If you look at the previous links I provided on projected energy use, unfortunately fossil fuels are going to form a major component of the energy mix for decades to come – particularly in the emerging economies which are going to form the bulk of projected energy-use growth. Its going to take more than wind turbines, solar and tidal to sort these problems out, particularly over the next 20-30 years. If we just stick with the old wind/solar/tidal/nuclear solutions, most realistic projections show that there will be no way of meeting the 2050 80% Co2 reduction target with those technologies alone given global energy use growth projections.

          • @Steven – If we just stick with the old wind/solar/tidal/nuclear solutions, most realistic projections show that there will be no way of meeting the 2050 80% Co2 reduction target with those technologies alone given global energy use growth projections.

            In the cases of Brazil and China, they are already heavily into hydroelectric power.

            given global energy use growth projections.

            Energy growth has huge green potential IF it locates industries in new more suitable locations. There is massive potential for solar powered industries in the sunny deserts of the world.

            Tidal and off-shore wind also have massive potential in coastal areas, with geothermal in volcanic zones.

            Much of the projected growth is just looking at blundering on as in the past, rather than using locally appropriate systems along with the negawatts of waste reduction.

            http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/plugged-in/2011/11/02/negawatts-and-megawatts/

          • Hi Steve_M,

            I’m a little sceptical of Carbon capture and storage. Here down under, they have sunk quite a lot of money into it, we are highly politically motivated to make it work and even the right wing media have given up on it’s likely adoption any time in the next few decades.

            One of the issues has been they have had difficulty keeping the stuff down there. In theory this should be possible but one study I read showed it wasn’t as stable as they thought. Not much point putting it down there if it doesn’t stay there. Another problem is if you do implement it, it takes a significant amount of energy to pressurize it to a liquid state, you have to consider the safety of worker if something goes wrong and a couple of hundred people are asphyxiated, if it leaks from where you put it, will it acidify the ground water? This is a particular issue in Australia as we rely heavily on our ground water for both agriculture as human water source (one we have been squandering), and if like Australia you are exporting most of the coal you dig out of the ground will the people you export to have suitable geology next to where they have built their coal fired power station, or will they need to make a few hundred kilometres of pipelines to a suitable site? Is there suitable sites that just happen to exist under the places where we currently have coal fired power stations (which need to be situated near a water source) that also are suitable geologically for CO2 capture and storage? They may well sort all this out but thus far I’ve not heard any answers to these questions from its proponents, clearly there is a lot of science that needs to be done.

            My point would be, look at the reduction in costs of solar, wind and wave energy over the last decade. They are all rapidly approaching coal right now. Well before carbon capture and storage can safely be used they will be cheaper than coal is now. Carbon capture and storage will cost more than coal does now due to the enormous energy required to put it down there. So why continue to tie ourselves down to an energy source that we will eventually need to replace anyway even if it wasn’t causing AGW? If it was ready to go right now and proven safe long term, I’d be with you, it’s just not there yet and there is a pretty big question as to if it will ever get there.

          • Hi Reckless Monkey,
            Undoubtedly there are locations that will be more suited to CCS than others, but that’s undoubtedly true for other low carbon technologies such as wind/solar/hydro as well. The UK for instance has a load of depleted gas fields with existing wells/pipework/infrastructure etc built to extract the gas from subsurface reservoirs for consumption. It would be relatively straightforward to plumb in power stations and reverse the flow to re-inject gas (in this case CO2) back into the depleted reservoirs.

            (as an aside, gas injection is already in use in depleted fields to store gas bought during low demand/cheap times to safeguard a supply and to reproduce the gas during peak times when a better price can be bartered for it – the depleted reservoirs can’t be that leaky and costs of injection can’t be that high if this is economically possible).

            Also, CO2 has been captured/processed for industrial use for many years and I don’t recall seeing many cases of mass asphyxiation. Up scaling would be necessary to cope with power station emissions but I wouldn’t have thought it would add too much risk to this proven process provided the design is sound. At the end of the day it does add cost in terms of the plant, infrastructure and lessened efficiency of energy production due to increase power overhead, but it would be a shame if this is considered insurmountable

          • In the cases of Brazil and China, they are already heavily into hydroelectric power.

            Hello Alan, As I mentioned in another thread – be careful of the ‘shining lights’ that you pick to exemplify these issues. China is currently investing heavily in renewables, but this country is also facing huge energy growth over the next few decades. This is projected to result in China being the largest CO2 emitter through to at least 2040 and throughout this time it is projected to consume more coal than the rest of the world combined.

            As for Brazil – that country is a clear outlier in terms of its hydro power which can (if all goes well) generate some 80% or so of its power mix. Like Norway (another hydro outlier) this is more down to the geography/population density than anything else – circumstances that will not hold up for many other countries.

            Also, when it comes to Brazil, hydro might be seen as low CO2, but at what other cost? See some environmental/human problems associated with hydro in Brazil here, here and here. That’s not to mention the fact that reservoirs constructed in tropical forest areas can emit significant greenhouse gasses associated with methane release by rotting vegetation. Also there are major problems with the hydro meeting demand in Brazil during droughts as highlighted here and here. Note in the BBC article it states: “To have more flexibility in the power supply, the government has increased the construction of thermoelectric plants, mostly fired by natural gas and diesel. The generation capacity of these plants has almost tripled in a decade.” Does this sound like true sustainability? Aside from CO2 emissions what other environmental costs are largely swept under the carpet regarding Brazil’s hydro power? Have any European/North American countries tripled their gas/oil power station capacity this last decade? Like I said – be careful of the ‘shining lights’ that you pick to exemplify these issues.

          • Hi Steve,

            For starters I’m not an expert, I know a lot more about AGW than I do about this and I know from this forum that I know a lot less about AGW than say Alan_4_Dsicussion does.

            Having said that, what I have read from people engaging in CCS research is they need to be careful about what geologoical structures they put it in. They claim Australia has many such sites. My question which I think is reasonable is how close are these to where our current coal fired power stations are. As we export expotentially more than we use locally this is a moral question that needs answering. Would the Australian Government refuse to sell coal to those that don’t have suitable geology? Uranium sales to almost anyone from this country shows they are unlikely to give a damn.

            Given that CCS researches are saying only certain types of geology is suitable then it seems unlikely that the place you are taking gas from will coincidentally just happen to be the place best suited for putting it back in, particualarly if you have altered the structure by fracking it. It would seem in most cases that there would be a significant infrastructure cost involved and powerlines I suspect would be cheaper and safer.

            However, as I stated this is a question not an assertion. If these concerns can be answered fine. They have been asked by those more qualified than me and not answered in the past so I remain skeptical.

            As for asphyxiation, I am aware that there have been whole villages wiped out by CO2 here is one example being belched out of natural underground stores during in this case a landslide. Given that just in Australia (which has only about 20 million population) we would be anually having bury 1 cubic kilometer of liquified CO2, obviously not all in the same location but after a decade or so that is not insignifcant in a less geologically stable country which may make this technology pointless through much of the world. In these cases or even burst pipes in the plant is a risk worth looking into (I’m sure someone is – but I wouldn’t be reassured until such questions are answered).

            I do not doubt this could be done, however I have problems with massive funds being devoted towards something that its proponents claim is decades away being able to be used, will demand continual massive infrastructure costs, may effect our water table, will force up electricity prices even more (when alternatives are going down) and will ultimately (in hundreds of years) be given up anyway as we will eventually run out of fossil fuels. This to me is about opportunity cost, we can accelerate renewables (which I doubt anyone here would disagree ultimately must be the future – our solar -incuding wind in this as ultimately this is driven by the sun, tidal and geothermal power is ultimately the only renewable powersources we have) or we can spend our money on short term fixes which at current trends will never get to the point of affordability next to the alternatives.

            For decades the alternatives were so much more per kilowatt that large scale uptake unlikely, government subsidies were needed to get any of it going in the short term. I think we are now at the point were it the economics are such that in short order no-one will bother with coal or gas not out of environmental factors but purely economic. They payoff for a coal or gas pant is in the ball park of 2 to 3 decades, and in that you are committed to continuing to dig then you suggest bury waste for that time, look at the drop in prices in the alternatives (solar being the most impressive) it won’t be long before investors are saying no. So IMO there is an opportunity cost lost to dealing with climate change if we go with CCS, and potential questions yet to be answered by the experts (at least the ones I read). Happy to be proved wrong though, regards.

  2. @OP – unlike the petroleum we burn in our vehicles—can be easily and inexpensively replaced without changing our behaviors or disrupting our economy.

    That’s also only a matter of time, research, and development. – A few costs of global warming and air pollution added to oil prices would help accelerate the process of embracing change.

    http://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

  3. It’s likely worldwide progress toward changing from carbon to renewable energy will be slower than most critics of current policies call for and energy battles will be part of the political landscape worldwide for decades to come.

    Changing earth’s climate is a complicated task; perhaps the biggest project the human species has ever undertaken, and the most costly. It’s likely earth’s climate will continue to get more energetic for many years to come, no matter how effective efforts to combat the change are.

    Besides conventional thinking, fronts will have to be considered in unexpected areas, such as reducing the world’s human population to hopefully mid-20th century levels (which isn’t likely, as the world’s population after the devastation of WWII was only ±2.5 billion.)

    Another area to explore may be to build a solar umbrella circling the earth. NANOtech advances may enable such a such a project to become feasible. It isn’t at present.

    Carbon sequestration is another project to consider but here science and government must tread carefully. Some varients may actually cause conditions to become worse than at present and can’t be easily reversed.

    Combatting climate change will be something humankind has to deal with for as long as any person now alive may live.

  4. Sorry guys, but there’s no ‘solution’ to this ecological crisis within the framework of capitalism. None. A system that has as its very driving impetus the continued accumulation of capital – and therefore the continued extraction of material from the Earth – which it needs simply to avoid going into stagnation, cannot possibly be compatible with a decent future for the planet and its people. When people lament that ‘It’s really hard for consumers to be convinced to do this’, or that ‘nations just haven’t come together on a solution’, or ‘we need to invest much more in green technologies’, while also avoiding the ‘c’ word, they’re just avoiding the elephant in the room.

    There are severe problems and limitations with all of these so-called solutions. For one, the reason that it’s hard to get consumers to do anything that actually benefits the environment is because the capitalist system requires that they behave in this manner. Workers are caught in a cruel bind: they can produce and consume products that keep them in a job and benefit their families, but at the cost of destroying the environment and ruining the prospects for their grandchildren and future generations, or they can stop producing and consuming these products, leading to economic stagnation and recession, which has the side-consequential effect of benefiting the environment, but inflicting immediate hardship on their families. Capitalist accumulation and growth are fundamentally at odds with ecological sustainability, and to blame this on consumers is to be blind to the context and structural pressures in which consumers act.

    It’s no surprise that many environmental activists and other concerned parties are biased towards trying to find technological fixes. This allows them to avoid having to get near the systemic aspects of the crisis, and thus avoids being dismissed as ‘un-serious’. It can also be attractive to capitalists, who see investment opportunities – that is, opportunities for capital accumulation. If it’s not profitable, then it fizzles out – as many green initiatives have been. Even if a capitalist, through a genuine sense of responsibility, WANTS to invest in green technology, whether he’ll be able to do so won’t ultimately depend upon him. It’ll depend upon what’s compatible with the accumulation dynamics of the system. So-called ‘green energy’ (which is actually a lot dirtier and more carbon-intensive than many people believe) is offered as a way of ‘maintaining our standard of living’ while ‘protecting the environment’ – ignoring that our standard of living is itself a big part of the problem, and ignoring that even in the best case scenario from using these technologies, we would still need another planet Earth if the people of China and India were to attain the middle-class standard of living in the West, making this a flat-out ecological impossibility.

    The only real solution is less energy, less consumption and less extraction, and an end to capital accumulation forever. But that’s just not in the cards with this system.

    So sure, we need to ditch coal. No one can possibly dispute that. But much more importantly, we also need to ditch the system whose very logic makes coal so expedient and difficult to ditch, makes it hard to convince consumers to do anything for the benefit of the environment, and which makes it hard for nations to come together to protect the environment.

      • Agreed.
        Unless the global population is reduced and stabilised, all advances in energy policies, handling natural resources, polution control, etc is just avoiding the problem. You cannot have infinite population growth, on a finite planet.

        As for carbon-capture, that will never work, because there will never be the financial will to make it so. (The same thing is happening with (disposal of) nuclear waste, it can be done, but it will not be done).

        only 10 minutes to edit ??? who’s daft idea was that?

      • Watch out! I highlighted the fact that overpopulation should be our main real concern on a thread related to CO2 emissions on this website a few weeks ago and took a lot of flak for it. Of course overpopulation by humans is the main (largely unaddressed/denied/unspoken) problem facing the biosphere of our planet. Population growth is predicted to stabilise over the next few decades but, realistically, its already too high to avoid major biosphere damage irrespective of our focus on single issues such as CO2 emissions.

        Nevertheless I do agree in principle with some of the points aimed at me in the previous thread that we shouldn’t use that as a reason not to at least try to minimise the damage we are doing (not that I was actually suggesting we do that, but it is a point worth considering).

    • @ – Promethean Entity -

      While much of what you say is correct, you have a number of points out of proportion or misdirected.

      There are severe problems and limitations with all of these so-called solutions. For one, the reason that it’s hard to get consumers to do anything that actually benefits the environment is because the capitalist system requires that they behave in this manner.

      In the case of power-grid electrical supply, most consumers neither know nor care where their electricity comes from. The decisions on sources are made by politicians and company directors or managements.

      Workers are caught in a cruel bind: they can produce and consume products that keep them in a job and benefit their families, but at the cost of destroying the environment and ruining the prospects for their grandchildren and future generations, or they can stop producing and consuming these products,

      This is not necessarily so. For example marine engineering companies can just as well be employed installing tidal turbine, as installing off-shore oil and gas rigs. In sunny areas, construction crews can build turbine generators powered by coal OR powered by solar thermal heating. Likewise thorium nuclear plants provide employment without the need for a wasteful transport systems carrying coal. The employment is there. It is the directions to modernise and use the workforce effectively which are missing in many cases. Some major investors and high-tech companies are remedying this in some locations.

      leading to economic stagnation and recession, which has the side-consequential effect of benefiting the environment, but inflicting immediate hardship on their families.

      This is part of a myth put about by the carbonaceous Luddites. Apart from initial set-up costs. There is no evidence that nuclear or renewable systems cost more in the long term than polluting carbon systems. The polluters are only cheaper because their political friends and stooges subsidise their exploration and set-up costs , as I explained in this earlier discussion. http://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/germany-can-now-produce-half-its-energy-from-solar/#li-comment-146308

      Energy is not notably more expensive in countries which derive theirs from renewables or nuclear. http://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/germany-can-now-produce-half-its-energy-from-solar/#li-comment-146309

      Capitalist accumulation and growth are fundamentally at odds with ecological sustainability, and to blame this on consumers is to be blind to the context and structural pressures in which consumers act.

      This is true to a certain extent, but we need to remember that the USSR under communism caused some of the worst pollution and environmental damage! (Aral Sea!).

      It’s no surprise that many environmental activists and other concerned parties are biased towards trying to find technological fixes.

      Not really! Population and politics are large problems, and some hippy-type environmentalists do pursue the Fallacy of appeal to Nature, but environmental scientists have produced measured evaluations of the beneficial effects of improved technologies on environment and climate.
      The technological modernisation and up-grades of energy industries, make sense, even if global warming was not a major problem.

  5. Reckless Monkey Jun 27, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I’m a little sceptical of Carbon capture and storage. Here down under, they have sunk quite a lot of money into it, we are highly politically motivated to make it work and even the right wing media have given up on it’s likely adoption any time in the next few decades.

    One of the issues has been they have had difficulty keeping the stuff down there. In theory this should be possible but one study I read showed it wasn’t as stable as they thought. Not much point putting it down there if it doesn’t stay there. Another problem is if you do implement it, it takes a significant amount of energy to pressurize it to a liquid state, you have to consider the safety of worker if something goes wrong and a couple of hundred people are asphyxiated, if it leaks from where you put it, will it acidify the ground water?

    Acidification of ground water is a big issue.
    Most sedimentary rocks (sandstone/limestone) are bound together with calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate in contact with water and CO2, dissolves (as in limestone caves) becoming the soluble calcium bicarbonate. Underground wet CO2, unlike oil, will therefore dissolve its way out – especially along any cracks in rocks – particularly if forced into the rocks under pressure.

    • Most sedimentary rocks (sandstone/limestone) are bound together with calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate in contact with water and CO2, dissolves (as in limestone caves) becoming the soluble calcium bicarbonate. Underground wet CO2, unlike oil, will therefore dissolve its way out – especially along any cracks in rocks – particularly if forced into the rocks under pressure

      Alan – please do a little research before making statements like this. Many natural gas reservoirs contain significant volumes of entirely natural CO2 and the rocks aren’t dissolving. I have seen a gas exploration well that encountered natural gas comprising methane and up to 50% CO2 (rendering the gas discovery uncommercial) and there were no massive caves or evidence for ‘CO2 damage’. Have a read of a real geological paper here based on a reservoir with significant natural CO2 content. I highlight the paper abstract:

      Miller field of the North Sea has had high
      concentrations of natural CO2 for *70 Ma. It is an ideal
      analog for the long-term fate of CO2 during engineered
      storage, particularly for formation of carbonate minerals
      that permanently lock up CO2 in solid form. The Brae
      Formation reservoir sandstone contains an unusually high
      quantity of calcite concretions; however, C and O stable
      isotopic signatures suggest that these are not related to the
      present-day CO2 charge. Margins of the concretions are
      corroded, probably because of reduced pH due to CO2
      influx. Dispersed calcite cements are also present, some of
      which postdate the CO2 charge and, therefore, are the
      products of mineral trapping. It is calculated that only a
      minority of the reservoired CO2 in Miller (6–24%) has
      been sequestrated in carbonates, even after 70 Ma of CO2
      emplacement. Most of the CO2 accumulation is dissolved
      in pore fluids. Therefore, in a reservoir similar to the Brae
      Formation, engineered CO2 storage must rely on physical
      retention mechanisms because mineral trapping is both
      incomplete and slow.

      In short, this sandstone reservoir has been subjected to high CO2 levels for 70 million years and the rocks haven’t dissolved. In fact, quite the opposite, some of the CO2 has been sequestrated into carbonate cements – but this has not been at such a rate that a significant proportion of the CO2 is permanently locked into the rock by mineralisation, so most of it is still situated with the pore fluids, at least in this case study. Note that this study references many other studies that see the CO2 as a feedstock for carbonate mineralisation in the subsurface (ie adding to the carbonate cements) rather than something that will erode them. Although in this particular case study CO2 mineralisation sequestration appears to be somewhat limited.

      • Steve_M I have seen a gas exploration well that encountered natural gas comprising methane and up to 50% CO2 (rendering the gas discovery uncommercial) and there were no massive caves or evidence for ‘CO2 damage’.

        The CO2 you mention could have been released as chemical reactions of acidic or mineralised ground-water the calcite. The chemical and environmental processes are a lot more complex, than just requoting the estimated figures or cherry-picked examples you have given.

        Have a read of a real geological paper here based on a reservoir with significant natural CO2 content. I highlight the paper abstract:

        As you will know if you read the geology papers, calcite is a crystalline form of calcium carbonate, which unlike some more porous calcareous rocks, may or may not dissolve in CO2 solutions according to local conditions. Changes such as mineral content of water, acidity, or temperature due to compressor pumping, can radically alter the chemistry.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcite
        Calcite, like most carbonates, will dissolve with most forms of acid. Calcite can be either dissolved by groundwater or precipitated by groundwater, depending on several factors including the water temperature, pH, and dissolved ion concentrations. Although calcite is fairly insoluble in cold water, acidity can cause dissolution of calcite and release of carbon dioxide gas. Ambient carbon dioxide, due to its acidity, has a slight solubilizing effect on calcite. Calcite exhibits an unusual characteristic called retrograde solubility in which it becomes less soluble in water as the temperature increases. When conditions are right for precipitation, calcite forms mineral coatings that cement the existing rock grains together or it can fill fractures.

        When conditions are right for dissolution, the removal of calcite can dramatically increase the porosity and permeability of the rock, and if it continues for a long period of time may result in the formation of caves. On a landscape scale, continued dissolution of calcium carbonate-rich rocks can lead to the expansion and eventual collapse of cave systems, resulting in various forms of karst topography.

        • I think I’m near to giving up Alan – you have a pet theory on how you believe CO2 will behave deep in the subsurface based on Wikipedia quotes that relate to how it behaves when mixed with water in the near-surface groundwater zone (where lots of circulation/flushing occurs and pressure/temperature/pore fluid chemistries are very different).

          You’ve then dismissed out of hand some very detailed and robust peer reviewed scientific papers (one of which I provided a link for, that also references many other papers) that show that CO2/pore fluid/rock interactions deeper down in the subsurface (associated with actual examples of reservoir targets for CO2 storage) will actually lead to at least a portion of the CO2 being permanently mineralogically sequestrated, largely by the formation of carbonate cements.

          As you will know if you read the geology papers, calcite is a crystalline form of calcium carbonate

          Yes Alan – it may be a surprise to you but as a geologist with a background in sedimentology, sedimentary petrology (including lots of experience in thin section petrography, scanning electron microscopy and x-ray diffraction analysis), high resolution sequence stratigraphy and reservoir geology, I do know what calcite is.

          • Steve_M – You’ve then dismissed out of hand some very detailed and robust peer reviewed scientific papers (one of which I provided a link for, that also references many other papers) that show that CO2/pore fluid/rock interactions deeper down in the subsurface (associated with actual examples of reservoir targets for CO2 storage) will actually lead to at least a portion of the CO2 being permanently mineralogically sequestrated, largely by the formation of carbonate cements.

            I do not deny that carbo capture is possible, but we have to look at the big picture, which includes the lack of mature proven carbon capture technology for retro-fitting to the numerous old coal burning power-stations, along with issues that many of these depleted oil and gas wells are connected by pipelines which are well past their “use-by-dates”. many of the suggestions are little better than wish-thinking. There are other already proven technical options which are a better options for investment, and independent of the obstructive companies which have been denying the problems of increasing atmospheric CO2 for years.

  6. @Alan4Discussion

    In the case of power-grid electrical supply, most consumers neither know nor care where their electricity comes from. The decisions on sources are made by politicians and company directors or managements.

    Sorry, I should have been more specific about what I meant here. I meant the more general category of goods and services.

    Promethean Entity: ”Workers are caught in a cruel bind: they can produce and consume products that keep them in a job and benefit their families, but at the cost of destroying the environment and ruining the prospects for their grandchildren and future generations, or they can stop producing and consuming these products, ”

    This is not necessarily so. For example marine engineering companies can just as well be employed installing tidal turbine, as installing off-shore oil and gas rigs.

    True. Again, I was referring to the more general category of stuff. But the point actually also applies to emerging energy sources. The infrastructure needed to supplement, let along replace, the existing grid (which is supplied by conventional, dirtier sources) is and will be formidable, even if we assume a stagnant economy. This will require enormous amounts of extraction for rare earth metals, silicon, lithium, aluminium (for the frames of solar panels, for example, and for windmills, which will also be made of composite materials that derive from the fossil-fuel industry, at least as they’re sourced now), which require fossil fuel inputs to get the necessary machinery and stuff in place, plus the manufacturing of the stuff, plus the environmental destruction resulting from clearing forests and strip-mining mountains, noise pollution from windmills, and the costs and uncertainties of the toxicity of materials used in solar and battery components. So my point is really that there are things that can be done within the system that can mitigate (for a while) the worst of the anticipated effects, and that workers can be put to work on these things, but so long as we have GROWTH in the economy, this will require continued extraction, which will lead to a more precarious state of affairs in the future. And this will undoubtedly be so if we factor in that many developing countries are aspiring to Western-style consumption patterns. But there’s another factor: the rebound effect of increased energy efficiency. Since the capitalist system is predicated upon finding profitable outlets for excess capital, energy savings might not even result in a net decrease in energy use – they can lead to an increase in energy use, as the savings are converted into increased demand for some other resource, which can be energy intensive.

    Promethean Entity: ”leading to economic stagnation and recession, which has the side-consequential effect of benefiting the environment, but inflicting immediate hardship on their families.”

    This is part of a myth put about by the carbonaceous Luddites.

    No, it’s simple capitalist economics. The point is about the overall accumulation dynamics of the system – product use and consumption, product replacement, extraction of resources for more products, disposal and reuses of used products, transportation, and all the rebound effects that ripple throughout the system when a cheaper or more abundant resource is supplied.

    Apart from initial set-up costs. There is no evidence that nuclear or renewable systems cost more in the long term than polluting carbon systems.

    Actually, nuclear power and renewables have comparatively very poor energy ouput-input ratios, at least with existing technology. That is, for the amount of energy that goes into extracting the requisite raw materials, for manufacturing, setting up and maintaining these sources, they provide relatively little return. If they are to actually replace, rather than merely supplement, existing infrastructure, there will need to be truly gargantuan increases in their use – which may make their very implementation unfeasible.

    The polluters are only cheaper because their political friends and stooges subsidise their exploration and set-up costs , as I explained in this earlier discussion. http://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/germany-can-now-produce-half-its-energy-from-solar/#li-comment-146308

    I’ll need to read the source, but these types of forecasts are almost invariably pipe-dreams, at least when they’re positing that said technology will supply that much energy while the rest of the economy stays buoyant. I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised and proven wrong (and I certainly hope that I will be), but to get that much energy would require that a virtual miracle be pulled of in the temperate climate of this economic superpower. My skepticism also derives from the fact that, whenever these rosy outlooks are put out, a confluence of interests is all too often to be found lurking closely behind, and one that doesn’t necessarily have the best interests of truth at heart. Solar power is certainly not without its share of scandal and outrage. Manufacturers of solar cells are skilled propagandists who, for example, are want to advertise the maximum theoretical capacity of their solar cells, when in fact solar cells rarely run at their maximum capacity, even during optimal conditions. A host of issues, limitations and uncertainties (reliability of coverage given weather patterns, the angle of roof-mounted houses to the sun, the density of trees blocking houses, the cost of purchasing cells and the cost of replacing the batteries, the costs of solar cell theft, the amount of area that needs to be reserved for and even cleared for solar cell power stations. These are to name just a few) are glossed over for the sake of selling a slick spiel about the benefits of the new wonder technology. ‘Can’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘will’ or ‘is at all desirable, given all the other costs and uncertainties’. Politicians, hoping to gain a new electoral niche, or bankrolled by economic interests pushing the new technology, pronounce that the technology will ‘solve’ the energy problems on the horizon. Scientists and engineers, eager to get their names on new patents or to become the next gurus speaking at TED talks, or to obtain funding from government agencies, also do their bit. And environmentally conscious consumers and activists, wanting to expedite the demise of the carbon economy, fall into line and cheerlead the advances. Whenever one looks at a technology that was touted as being ‘the solution’ or ‘the next big thing’, one can find this confluence of interests working symbiotically to produce a consensus.

    Energy is not notably more expensive in countries which derive theirs from renewables or nuclear. http://richarddawkins.net/2014/06/germany-can-now-produce-half-its-energy-from-solar/#li-comment-146309

    Nuclear energy is heavily subsidised, and its non-financial costs are impressive. Secondly, since we’re concerned about the environment, rather than the cost to corporate bottom line, we have to take into account those costs that are ‘externalised’ and not reflected in nominal cost to the consumer or tax-payer or even to the government. In addition, countries that have a considerable portion of their energy deriving from renewables, like Norway, also have unique geographical and climatic advantages that make this feasible. Finally, even overall reductions in the carbon outputs of economies within a nation’s borders does not mean that these nations are actually reducing their carbon footprint. For example, Britain might produce less carbon dioxide than it has in the recent past, but this is achieved by British manufacturing setting up shop in China. The economy of China is largely geared towards manufacturing for affluent markets in the West. It has only been able to do so at the scale and pace it has precisely because it has such shocking environmental standards. China is at the very hard edge of capitalist accumulation in the world: without China, global capitalism would long ago have fallen into even deeper structural crisis than it already has.

    Promethean Entity: Capitalist accumulation and growth are fundamentally at odds with ecological sustainability, and to blame this on consumers is to be blind to the context and structural pressures in which consumers act.

    This is true to a certain extent, but we need to remember that the USSR under communism caused some of the worst pollution and environmental damage! (Aral Sea!).

    True, but this was itself in the context of a rapid industrialisation program aimed at catching up with the West (i.e. an accumulation drive). Who is the West trying to catch up with as its economies continually ravish the environment? The answer is: no one. It’s far out ahead in the game, and it continues to ravish the environment according to the logic of its economic order. While socialist regimes can certainly be environmental villains, it’s certain that capitalism has to be simply to stay afloat. That socialism can produce environmental damage does nothing at all to preclude capitalism’s fundamental culpability.

    Promethean Entity: ”It’s no surprise that many environmental activists and other concerned parties are biased towards trying to find technological fixes.”

    Not really! Population and politics are large problems, and some hippy-type environmentalists do pursue the Fallacy of appeal to Nature, but environmental scientists have produced measured evaluations of the beneficial effects of improved technologies on environment and climate.

    While it’s true that population and politics are indeed large problems, it’s also true that activists and others have tended to push technological fixes whenever appealing to consumers (often in conjunction with recommendations for reduced consumption, which can go hand-in-hand with the technological aspects, such as recommendations to buy better light-bulbs or cars), and have structured political recommendations in accordance to the need for investments in certain technology and regulations pertaining to the use of existing types of machines in transport and power production (eg. fuel consumption and emissions standards for cars: filters for smoke-stacks, smart grids, etc). The focus in the West has certainly been more towards technology, while in the so-called Third World, activists have tended to emphasise measures to mitigate population growth.

    The technological modernisation and up-grades of energy industries, make sense, even if global warming was not a major problem.

    They do make sense, but it’s not enough just to say that; one has to consider whether they will instead lead to their negation down the road via the rebound effect owing to the decreased cost or increased availability of energy and therefore the increased throughput of energy through the entire system. For that, a holistic approach is needed that takes into account the accumulation and macroevolutionary dynamics of the system. In the final analysis, the focus on technological factors, population and consumer patterns devolves into a charade that patches over the basic relations of how humans and the environment interact. Without a systemic view (that is, a truly scientific one), long-term change will be too little, too late. That’s certainly the outcome that humanity is flirting with.

    • Promethean Entity – Actually, nuclear power and renewables have comparatively very poor energy ouput-input ratios, at least with existing technology.

      Not really! A thorium nuclear reactor and steam generator system, only require a fraction of the supply and transport of materials to feed a coal-fire plant. We could already extensive thorium nuclear generation, no Chernobyl, or Fukashima disasters and no nuclear proliferation, – but for the politicians love of uranium for bombs!

      While new grid structures may be needed they are not more likely to be more demanding than the present ones when they were first build, or when they will need to be replaced. We need to look at the big picture, which is likely to include some industries relocating to new sites.

      Both tidal turbines and liquid salt solar thermal systems, use mechanically similar turbine generators to coal or gas systems, but do not need pipelines or heavy transport systems to provide gas or coal.

      Local photovoltaics with batteries, or small solar thermal systems pasteurising water and cooking, http://www.solarcookers.org/basics/how.html, can avoid the need for big grids or heavy transport systems altogether, in remote parts of third-world countries

      That is, for the amount of energy that goes into extracting the requisite raw materials, for manufacturing, setting up and maintaining these sources, they provide relatively little return.

      I can see no basis for this claim. These are up-front investments in very long term services with decades of pay-back production.

      If they are to actually replace, rather than merely supplement, existing infrastructure, there will need to be truly gargantuan increases in their use

      We certainly need a large shift in the energy bases of modern countries. However as a disproportionate quantity of pollution is from the richer industrialised countries, they should have the capacity to clean up their systems if there is the political will.

      The available tidal and solar energy available for harnessing in appropriate areas, IS gargantuan.

      Many of the points you make simply identify problems during the transitional period, and illustrate the need for a joined-up approach covering resource recycling, green transport systems, and matching system to the local environmental conditions.

      Your comments on the environmental dangers of unregulated capitalism were known in Europe during the industrial revolution, and are presently manifesting themselves in China etc.

      – which may make their very implementation unfeasible.

      This is simply wrong! Successful prototypes are up and running, with follow-up schemes under development. (I have put numerous links to examples in various discussions on this site.)

      You are however correct that the progress is nowhere near fast enough.

      There was an interesting related earlier discussion here on bringing commercial pressure to abandon the mining of coal. http://richarddawkins.net/2014/05/when-colleges-ditch-coal-investments-its-barely-a-drop-in-the-bucket/

      • Alan4, I know this is a topic near and dear to your heart so I thought you might find this of interest. Here is an essay on the differences in the debate on climate change versus climate science. It’s from an unusual (i.e., non science) source for this website but the content is compelling. I am a contributor at LA Review of Books and we recently posted this. Likely nothing you don’t already know but it’s still an interesting read. Enjoy:

        http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/fallacious-thinking-climate-change-debate-versus-climate-science

        • From:

          http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/fallacious-thinking-climate-change-debate-versus-climate-science

          “we are still optimistic about the potential of technology to solve our
          problems…
          …hope that a technology will come along that ingeniously fixes the sky…

          Would a concept that resembles a wind spinner built from material developed through NANOtechnology be feasible and cost effective if climate change didn’t respond fast enough to the elimination of carbon based energy?

          Imagine a single tier spinner, similiar in appearance to a double tier wind spinner, surrounding the earth. The most effective blade width would have to be calculated and two (or four) blades would be more appropriate than three for a repetitive daily pattern that blocked solar radiation:

        • Steven007 It’s from an unusual (i.e., non science) source for this website but the content is compelling. I am a contributor at LA Review of Books and we recently posted this. Likely nothing you don’t already know but it’s still an interesting read. Enjoy:

          http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/fallacious-thinking-climate-change-debate-versus-climate-science

          Thanks Steve!
          I have come across many of these rambling media conjectures in the past. Media “debate” is very different to scientific debate/discussion.
          The only obvious criticism I would make of the article is that it refers to deniers who have hi-jacked the word, as “skeptics”, where as on this RDFS site we usually refer to such people as Koch Bros as pseudo-Skeptics.
          To be scientifically sceptical people actually need to study the evidence, (rather than to simply sit in denial making up misleading crap)! – See this skeptical site! http://skepticalscience.com/97-percent-consensus-cook-et-al-2013.html

          • To be scientifically sceptical people actually need to study the evidence, (rather than to simply sit in denial making up misleading crap)!

            Sorry Alan, but do you mean sitting in denial making up misleading crap like stating CO2 sequestration will dissolve reservoir rocks and cause that technology to fail based on your Wikipedia pet theory? (Whereas the scientific viewpoint/evidence as has been presented to you states that this is not the case?) Surely not.

            Alan – I also appreciate that this subject is dear to your heart which is highly commendable. But when it comes to evidence please take a broad view and don’t be too quick to dismiss points/technologies that don’t fit with your preconceived ideas of what needs to be done. Regarding CCS – in this thread you’ve gone from ‘its a plan to obfuscate matters by carbonaceous luddites’ to ‘doesn’t work’ to ‘its dangerous’ to ‘it will dissolve the earth’ to ‘its unproven’ and finally to ‘its economically unviable’ based on a highly limited apparent understanding of the technology/implications. Does this line of argument based on limited understanding sound familiar to you with regard to, say, daft climate change denial arguments?

            As a final point I leave you with this, have a read – you might come round to the idea based on the evidence (and please don’t try to make out that this is ‘cherry picked’ Carbonaceous luddite propaganda!).

          • Doc Zone
            “CBC’s flagship documentary series explores and expands on the major issues of our time.”

            CBUT TV in Vancouver, BC., offers Doc Zone a couple times a week. CBUT is on my cable system and is also available OTA. I was lucky to catch one of their more captivating shows Surviving the Future when it aired a few months ago, but discovered I’d just missed the complementary Playing God with Planet Earth, which deals with scientific schemes to sequester carbon dioxide as well as block solar radiation, if curtailing carbon emissions alone doesn’t succeed in decreasing climatic activity to avoid catastrophe.

            CBC’s program line-up rotates through the Doc Zone episodes every few months’, I finally got to watch Playing God last week These two documentaries offer one of the most complete condensed overviews (at a layperson’s level) of the present climate vs. technology challenge.

            If a Forum reader has the opportunity, some episodes of Doc Zone are worth watching. Unfortunately while Doc Zone is available for online streaming to Canadians, US URL’s are blocked. Here’s a complete list of episodes.

  7. Steve_M Jun 28, 2014 at 8:41 pm

    To be scientifically sceptical people actually need to study the
    evidence, (rather than to simply sit in denial making up
    misleading crap)!

    Sorry Alan, but do you mean sitting in denial making up misleading crap like stating CO2 sequestration will dissolve reservoir rocks and cause that technology to fail based on your Wikipedia pet theory? (Whereas the scientific viewpoint/evidence as has been presented to you states that this is not the case?) Surely not.

    No! I mean looking at the big picture and not some narrow scientific view of an optimistic limited local aspect of a cherry-picked example of geology or plant.

    http://ecohearth.com/eco-zine/green-issues/1609-abandoned-leaking-oil-wells-natural-gas-well-leaks-disaster.html

    Each day hundreds of thousands of abandoned leaking oil wells and natural-gas wells spew toxic pollutants into the environment—and tens of millions more will soon join them—thanks to fatally flawed gas and oil-well capping and lax or nonexistent industry and government oversight. A three-month EcoHearth.com investigation has revealed this developing environmental calamity that almost no one is paying attention to and that gravely threatens ecosystems worldwide.

    There are at minimum 2.5 million abandoned oil and gas wells—none permanently capped—littering the US, and an estimated 20-30 million globally. There is no known technology for securely sealing these tens of millions of abandoned wells. Many—likely hundreds of thousands—are already hemorrhaging oil, brine and greenhouse gases into the environment. Habitats are being fundamentally altered. Aquifers are being destroyed. Some of these abandoned wells are explosive, capable of building-leveling, toxin-spreading detonations. And thanks to primitive capping technologies, virtually all are leaking now—or will be.

    Ian McDonnell, a Florida State University hydrologist who studies natural oil seeps, is concerned about the extent of the problem. “When Deepwater Horizon occurred,” he said, “they found four different abandoned wells in the same field that were all leaking. That should tell you something.”

    There are also whole loads of potentially expensive problems in converting ageing, inaccessible, under-sea pipelines, from holding hydrocarbons to transporting pressurised industrial gasses long-term.

    http://www.penspenintegrity.com/downloads/virtual-library/extend-life-aging-pipelines.pdf

    Many of our offshore pipelines are now either showing signs of age (e.g. corrosion), or are approaching the end of their design life. This problem can be addressed by using a variety of engineering methods to predict the remaining safe life of the pipelines. These methods include both simple and complex fitness for purpose analyses, but must consider other aspects of the care of an ageing asset, e.g. inspection and repair.

    Carbon capture needs much time spent on development work to be done before its feasibility and costing can be properly assessed, by which time the money could have been better used on converting to proven green technologies, and for building the new cleaner thorium nuclear plants.
    It is always going to be a limited partial solution, with considerable environmental risks, even if the companies and regulators involved are much better than their past record suggests.

    • Hi Alan,

      No! I mean looking at the big picture and not some narrow scientific view of an optimistic limited local aspect of a cherry-picked example of geology or plant.

      http://ecohearth.com/eco-zine/green-issues/1609-abandoned-leaking-oil-wells-natural-gas-well-leaks-disaster.html

      Thanks for giving me a good chuckle – that link is highly entertaining. I don’t think I’ve read such a pile of biased, ill informed, alarmist, unscientific, propagandist drivel in a long time. Please don’t promote that kind of unscientific nonsense as a valid counter-argument to the peer reviewed scientific articles such as the ones I’ve provided. For fun, I’ve marked and commented on the section of text that you highlighted in a manner consistent with the level of criticism it might receive when being marked at a 1st year undergraduate level:

      Each day hundreds of thousands of abandoned leaking oil wells and natural-gas wells spew toxic pollutants into the environment **[Hundered of thousands of abandoned wells are leaking each day? how did you arrive at this number?/Reference needed]* **—and tens of millions more will soon join them* **[Tens of millions will soon join them? How did you arrive at this number?/Reference needed]***—thanks to fatally flawed gas and oil-well capping and lax or nonexistent industry and government oversight* **[Reference needed]***. A three-month EcoHearth.com investigation has revealed this developing environmental calamity that almost no one is paying attention to and that gravely threatens ecosystems worldwide.*

      There are at minimum 2.5 million abandoned oil and gas wells—none permanently capped [Really? Are none permanently capped/plugged? Reference needed]**—littering the US, and an estimated 20-30 million globally. There is no known technology for securely sealing these tens of millions of abandoned wells **[Is there really no known technology for effectively plugging a well?/Reference needed]***. Many—likely hundreds of thousands* **[How did you arrive at this figure?/Reference needed]***—are already hemorrhaging oil, brine and greenhouse gases into the environment. Habitats are being fundamentally altered* **[Reference needed]***. Aquifers are being destroyed***[Reference needed]***. Some of these abandoned wells are explosive, capable of building-leveling, toxin-spreading detonations***[Reference needed]***. And thanks to primitive capping technologies, virtually all are leaking now—or will be.***[Are virtually all abandoned wells leaking now?/Reference needed]

      Ian McDonnell, a Florida State University hydrologist who studies natural oil seeps, is concerned about the extent of the problem. “When Deepwater Horizon occurred,” he said, “they found four different abandoned wells in the same field that were all leaking. That should tell you something.” [The Deepwater Horizon incident was a tragedy/disaster (both environmental and, lets not forget, human) related to catastrophic loss of control of a well under drilling, and has nothing to do with well abandonment practices which are the subject of this essay. Regarding the rest of the essay, values are mentioned (such as the number of wells leaking each day) with no source or information as to how these numbers were derived. A number of '2.5 million' abandoned oil and gas wells in the US has been stated, but there is no mention as to what proportion of these are abandoned oil/gas producers at the end of their productive life, and what proportion were abandoned due to being 'dry holes' (ie little or no productive hydrocarbons were encountered in the well). Given that the majority of oil/gas wells drilled (overall/in the grand scheme) are dry holes, the potential for hydrocarbon pollution from these wells is obviously very limited in many (in fact the majority of) cases. This fact is not addressed in the essay, which instead makes assertions along the line of "Each day hundreds of thousands of abandoned leaking oil wells and natural-gas wells spew toxic pollutants into the environment—and tens of millions more will soon join them" with little or no apparent basis in fact for such claims. Overall this essay is poorly written and shows a profoundly unscientific approach to the subject matter. 2/10. Must try harder.]

      • Steve_M

        Ian McDonnell, a Florida State University hydrologist who studies natural oil seeps, is concerned about the extent of the problem. “When Deepwater Horizon occurred,” he said, “they found four different abandoned wells in the same field that were all leaking. That should tell you something.”

        [The Deepwater Horizon incident was a tragedy/disaster (both environmental and, lets not forget, human) related to catastrophic loss of control of a well under drilling, and has nothing to do with well abandonment practices which are the subject of this essay.

        The Deepwater Horizon may have nothing to do with " well abandonment practices", but that does nothing to negate the discovery of the four leaking abandoned wells referred to.

        I am well aware that due to a lack of records the figures are estimates or speculative, but that does not detract from the large problem of leaking "orphan wells", for which nobody takes responsibility, as the owners have gone into liquidation and ceased trading!

        Overall this essay is poorly written and shows a profoundly unscientific approach to the subject matter. 2/10. Must try harder.]

        You could try harder in looking for scientific articles which confirm details of leakages. There are plenty of them around. Denial is not an option!

        http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0264817214000609

        Oil and gas well barrier elements can fail.
        The percentage of wells with barrier element failure is between 1.9% and 75%.
        Pennsylvanian shale wells have well barrier and failures rates of 6.3% or less.

        https://www.dur.ac.uk/dei/news/?itemno=20627

        Studies of oil and gas wells that were drilled over the last 100 years reveal highly variable well barrier and well integrity failure rates [see Notes to Editors (1) for definitions] of 1.9%-75%. This variation in failure rates is probably due to the differences in the number of wells included in each study, their age, design and the geology they penetrate. For example, of 8,030 wells targeting the Marcellus shale inspected in Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2013, 6.3% of these have been reported to the authorities for infringements related to well barrier or integrity failure.
        Public domain data on well barrier and well integrity failure rates for onshore wells in Europe is scarce.

        • Hi Alan – sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been busy with work. I have read that full paper before and I suggest you do the same rather than cherry picking from the abstract. Particularly regarding the differentiation between well barrier failure and well integrity failure and the knock on effects of both of those cases in terms of potential impact.

          I’d also urge you to read the conclusions of that study where it is stated: “It
          is likely that well barrier failure will occur in a small number of
          wells and this could in some instances lead to some form of environmental
          contamination” and “Only 2 wells in the UK have recorded well integrity failure” – that’s not a bad record given the 1000′s of wells drilled. Not exactly end of the world stuff as implied by the ridiculous unscientific article you linked to previously. No technology is 100% failsafe and it would be highly irresponsible to claim otherwise, but lets keep the risks in context rather than ranting about nonsense end of the world stuff. And furthermore lets acknowledge the real risks and plan/design/reject solutions accordingly. Many of the concerns with abandoned wells come down to the lack of monitoring post abandonment of very old (ie poorly controlled/potentially poorly completed) wells. Obviously it would be very easy to design-in monitoring capability and/or very secure abandonment practices if that were deemed a legal requirement for CCS.

          As you can see from the report you linked to – some areas have high failure rates/environmental risks and some low – nobody would suggest CCS in an field of high failure rates where aquifer pollution/surface leakage is a real problem/concern.

          CCS forms a potentially significant way to mitigate CO2 emissions over the next few decades while we sort out other technologies to shift to a zero carbon energy system. I think you’ll be hearing a lot more about it in the next few years whether you come around to the idea or not.

          • The real issue is the untrustworthy nature of the industries and regulators involved in maintaining well safety – in this case security needed for decades or centuries.

            Companies are being allowed to bully people into hiding blatant dangers here and now, let alone decades into the future!

            http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/11/08/1254247/-Texas-Frackers-Sue-Victim-of-Their-Water-Pollution-for-3-Million-for-Exposing-Them#

            According to Kossack TexasSharon, who has obtained a report from a firewalled investigation, Range Resources has been submitting bogus results to the EPAto cover up large-scale water contamination in Lipsky’s development.

            Bryce Payne, a soil scientist hired by Perdue’s neighbor as part of the area’s long-running water contamination case, says the contamination in the area is much bigger than Perdue’s one high reading. He says EPA has accepted “bogus” test results from Range and its contractors for Perdue’s water well and 17 more belonging to her neighbors.

            The results submitted to EPA by Range, he said, include contradictory data. One set shows acceptably low levels of methane in most of the water wells, while the other shows that those low levels can’t be correct.

            Independent, unbiased, water studies by Duke University scientists have found severe contamination of Lipsky’s water.

            In September 2013, tests showed gas coming out of Lipsky’s water well measuring 162,000 parts per million (ppm). 50,000 ppm is considered a level for potential explosion. Air samples taken directly from the water well headspace vent showed levels exceeding 900,000 parts per million. Several residents alerted the Railroad Commission of new high-test levels, prompting the agency to reopen its investigation.

            Apparently Range’s owners think they can get away with all of this because they own the state of Texas and have intimidated the EPA into silence. Clearly, they have captured the Texas Railroad Commission and the state of Texas.

            With aspects of the case still pending in his courtroom, Judge Trey Loftin sent fliers to voters saying he forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to back down.

            However, Bloomberg news uncovered a campaign flier that showed that Judge Loftin had an ethics problem in the case.

  8. There is now the CO2 global monitoring which climate scientists have been waiting for, since the earlier version of the satellite was destroyed in an explosion.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28089165

    Nasa has launched a mission dedicated to measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) from space.

    The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) will help pinpoint the key locations on the Earth’s surface where the gas is being emitted and absorbed.

    A Delta rocket carrying the satellite lifted clear of the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 02:56 local time (09:56 GMT; 10:56 BST).

    The ride to orbit took just under an hour.

    The launch was delayed a day after Tuesday’s countdown was aborted due to the failure of the water system used to dampen the noise and vibration generated by the rocket’s first-stage engine and strap-on boosters.

    OCO-2 carries the “2″ designation because it is a replacement for a spacecraft that was destroyed on launch in 2009.

    The new $468m ($275m) mission should operate for at least two years.

    Its key objective is to trace the global geographic distribution of CO2 in the atmosphere – measuring its presence down through the column of air to the planet’s surface.

    This should give scientists a better understanding of how the greenhouse gas cycles through the Earth system, influencing the climate.

    Uncertain ‘sinks’

    Humans are currently adding nearly 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, principally from the burning of fossil fuels.

    Only about half of this sum stays in the atmosphere, where it drives warming.

    About half of the other half is absorbed into the ocean, with the remainder pulled down into land “sinks”.

    Exactly where, though, is highly uncertain.

    It will likely include underappreciated areas of forest and grassland, but getting to the answers is complicated by the variability in the performance of sinks from year to year.

    “Understanding what controls that variability is really crucial,” said Dr Mike Gunson, the OCO-2 project scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    “If we can do that today, it might inform us about what might happen in the future.

    “Will those processes continue? Or will we see an abatement in their ability to absorb carbon dioxide, and does that increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, obviously having climate change impacts.”

    The mission follows on the heels of the Japanese Gosat (Greenhouse gases Observing SATellite) venture, which has been doing a similar job since 2009, although at a lower resolution than OCO-2 will manage.

    The Nasa scientists say they have learnt a huge amount from the Gosat experience, and expect the US satellite’s science return to be hugely boosted as a result.

    Europe has carbon missions of its own coming at the end of the decade.

    The French space agency (Cnes) is developing a concept called MicroCarb, which, like Gosat and OCO-2 before it, will measure carbon dioxide concentrations.

    Cnes is also working on a concept with the German space agency (DLR) called Merlin. This satellite would study the distribution of methane in the atmosphere.

  9. Meanwhile the fracking drillers, are pressing on, pretending they can reliably seal wells, but the mappers are looking at the geology.

    A major study into the potential of fracking to contaminate drinking water with methane has been published.http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28130982

    The British Geological Survey and the Environment Agency have mapped where key aquifers in England and Wales coincide with locations of shale.

    The research reveals this occurs under nearly half of the area containing the principal natural stores of water.

    The risk of methane being released into drinking water has long been one of the most sensitive questions over fracking.

    The study highlights where the rock layers may be too close to the aquifers for fracking to go ahead.

    It finds that the Bowland Shale in northern England – the first to be investigated for shale gas potential – runs below no fewer than six major aquifers.

  10. As should be no surprise to fackers, pumping water underground at pressure breaks up rocks and causes fractures and earthquakes.

    Massive injections of wastewater from the oil and gas industry are likely to have triggered a sharp rise in earthquakes in the state of Oklahoma.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-28128772
    Researchers say there has been a forty-fold increase in the rate of quakes in the US state between 2008-13.

    The scientists found that the disposal of water in four high-volume wells could be responsible for a swarm of tremors up to 35km away.

    Their research has been published in the journal, Science.

    Sudden swarm

    There has been increasing evidence of links between the process of oil and gas extraction and earthquakes in states like Arkansas, Texas, Ohio and Oklahoma in recent years.

    Four of the biggest of these wells in Oklahoma have been pumping around 4 million barrels of water a month to a depth of 3.5km beneath the surface.

    To determine the impact of this water, the scientists developed a model that could calculate the way the underground wave of pressure from these wells spread out.

    By comparing this to seismic data from the Jones cluster, it was concluded that the injection of wastewater is “likely responsible” for the swarm.

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