Monday, October 06, 2014


Eugene Plawiuk,
5th Class Certified Power Engineer

Last week Saskatchewan Power announced with much fanfare the first ever North American Carbon Capture and Sequestration or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project at Boundary Point Power Plant.

This coal fired power plant will capture carbon dioxide (CO2), hence the name carbon capture, compress it and place it in geological formations underground to be held infinitum. The federal government and provincial government of Saskatchewan touted this as great for the environment, for the climate, for Green House Gas (GHG) reduction and for creating some strange alchemical beast called clean coal.

I am afraid that like clean coal and other unicorns, Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage have nothing to do with cleaning anything from the climate, to coal. In fact what most news reports, especially those from the home province, did not report the real reason for the creation of this vastly expensive, untested technology.

While reporting almost verbatim the talking points of Sask Power and the conservative provincial and federal politicians touting this project, the media overlooked one simple fact, dirty coal goes into the power plant, dirty coal is burned giving off toxic gases to create electricity for our homes there is nothing clean about it.

An extension on the exhaust towers and use of scrubber technology has been around a lot longer would also reduce toxic emissions and is cheaper. But utility companies have resisted these retrofits in the past, so why their sudden enthusiasm for the expensive greening of dirty coal fired power plants using Carbon Capture and Storage?

For oil, oil in the Bakken shield in Saskatchewan but more importantly for oil still insitu underground in conventional wells. And potentially in oilsands in Northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, and in heavy oil in the provinces southern city of  Lloydminister. In fact along with Saskatchewan and the federal government, Alberta too put money into these projects.

However this fact was hardly ever mentioned in the media boosters of this project, or if it was it was thought of en passant, as they say in chess. Perhaps a sentence or two three quarters down the page.

The headlines said nothing at all about oil, it was all about how this magical process still to be put on line and proven to work, would clean coal, scrub clean the climate and cost taxpayers billions. This is and will be the constant claim by the coal and oil industries and their backers in the government

The Alberta government in 2008 announced a whopping $2 Billion dollar investment fund for Carbon Capture and Storage technology development, supposedly for the oilsands industry to reduce its carbon footprint. It is this fund that invested in the Sask Power project that still exists and has yet to fund a single oilsands project around CCS technology.

Why, well because Carbon Capture and Storage, sounds great, doesn’t it, it rolls off the tongue of politicians especially right wing ones who promote business over the environment. Why would these folks who call opponents of dirty energy like coal and bitumen, radical environmentalists, eco terrorists, embrace a green anything.

Because it is not green, does not clean coal, and does nothing for climate change contrary to all claims made for it. It is about taking Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from coal emissions from power plants and then compressing it into a liquid pumping it through a pipeline and then pumping it into underground chambers full of fractures that absorb the carbon dioxide and hold it forever.

The story often stops here. What does the carbon dioxide displace underground?
Oil, the storage areas are oil fields that can no longer be tapped using conventional methods. Yet almost 60% of the oil remains making it viable for extraction by a variety of methods, including fracking as well as steam extraction such as done in the oilsands now.

Once the carbon dioxide is sequestered it displaces the oil pushing it to the surface along with some residual carbon dioxide. The rest remains underground; the residual CO2 that escapes with the oil to the surface is minimal according to several scientific studies.

And here is the point not a single scientific study, easily found by Googling Carbon Capture and Storage, says that this process is about doing anything other than being used to create what the industry calls Enhanced Oil Production (EOP) and in fact many industry and scientific  studies are entitled CCS for EOP.

The most recent studies state that any so called green impacts are minimal, from reducing the impact on climate change to magically turning dirty coal clean. 

That is not its purpose never has been never will be. For the Alberta government the big lie they used was that Carbon Capture and Storage will reduce carbon emissions from the oilsands. And yet when oilsands researchers were offered money for CCS projects they all said no because it has nothing to do with oilsands or reducing their carbon footprint.

When coal powered utilities claim they are creating a cleaner form of energy and helping green the environment because they are capturing storing and pumping CO2 from coal into oil fields, well that’s more than a fib it’s a big lie.

The engineering and science behind CCS has always been part of the process of extracting oil from old fields. It was developed fifty years ago at the same time the oil industry was developing fracking and  steam extraction technologies. It was used with existing naturally occurring and some man made CO2. Eventually the natural sources of CO2 have disappeared and in order to extract more oil we would need to produce what the industry calls, ironically enough, ‘anthropogenic’ CO2, this man made CO2 can only be effectively made by coal fired power plants.

The coal, oil and utility companies and their allies in  engineering and scientific R&D in post secondary institutions and private industry have all known about the potential of this technology for half a century, why have they waited till now to develop it.

Because our conventional oil and gas reserves will be tapped out by 2020 in Alberta, Saskatchewan as well as in Europe and the US the conventional oil fields are drying up. They still contain lots of oil it’s just harder to get to.

Fracking is big right now and is being widely used in these fields as it has for fifty years, it is controversial because now it is being used for shale gas and oil fields, and currently CCS will not replace it because CCS is so expensive. But if CCS could be developed for use in conventional as well as shale oil fields and eventually even tar sands then it becomes more cost effective.

How does old King Coal the oldest of our fossil energies, benefit from this, after all oil and gas are its competitors. It’s about keeping the existing coal fired power plants working rather than replacing them with natural gas fired ones, or nuclear powered ones.

While Canada, the US and Europe are reducing the use of coal fired plants they are increasingly being used in India, China and the BRICS where they have produced a Fordist manufacturing economy of coal, steel, cars.

The potential for this technology is that it will be needed in the future for use on EOP fields, and it can benefit countries that want to reduce their emissions, while still using coal. It’s a win-win-win except for the environment, and you and me.

The environmental concerns we have with fossil fuel use both coal and oil, will not be addressed by CCS. But you and I will be told it will be because we are paying for it.

The industry has not developed CCS for EOP because it is too costly, so who better to pay for it than you and I, the taxpayers of Canada, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Billions of tax dollars as credits, loans, subsidies, research and development grants, university funding for CCS projects etc all this has not cost the coal or oil industries a penny. But it is costing us.

In order to sell us on this waste of money, doing nothing for the environment while investing in more oil production, business, lobbyists, politicians, oil, gas and coal spokespeople and their  paid  scientific talking heads do not deny this is for Enhanced Oil Recovery, its just that they talk about Clean Coal and Green Energy and stopping Climate Change more. The benefits they tout are the same as those for the Emperors clothes.

It is the ultimate in Green Washing, the advertising campaign to make things appear healthy and good for you when they aren’t. It’s a way of directing more taxpayer money to the already ludicrously wealthy energy industry.

It is also good for right wing politicians to pretend to be doing something for the climate and environment in a single sound bite Carbon Capture and Storage sounds so Green until you finish the sentence; ‘for Enhanced Oil Production’.


1 comment:

Gyor said...

I support carbon capture, it called plants! :D

Seriously the best carbon capture plan I'm seen is using the carbon produced by power plants and other industrial uses to grow Algae which can be converted to Algae Oil, effectively recycling it.