Carbon Capture & Storage Explained: The New Fossil Fuel Frontier

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Climate and Energy

by Mia DiFelice

We’re running out of time to fight the consequences of our fossil fuel dependence. Everyday, we face headlines on raging wildfires, parching droughts, devastating hurricanes and other climate disasters. Experts have made it clear: we should have plugged carbon emissions yesterday. 

But what if we could only take emissions out of the fossil fuel equation?

That’s the fantasy that industry leaders and many politicians are pushing above anything else. But it’s just another scam that will boost profits and double down on polluting industry, with disastrous consequences for communities already sickened by air and water toxins from dirty energy power plants.

This fantasy goes by the name of carbon capture and storage. It refers to technologies designed to trap and remove carbon emissions from smokestacks or the atmosphere itself. And it’s gotten a lot of buzz lately. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocated billions of dollars to develop and deploy carbon capture. The Inflation Reduction Act will send billions more. 

But carbon capture isn’t a solution to climate change. In fact, it will entrench and grow the pollution that has already plagued frontline communities for decades. 

Here’s how it works, and what the industry and its hacks won’t tell you.

Carbon Capture Technology is Dangerous, Expensive — And it Just Doesn’t Work

The industry claims that carbon capture technology stores carbon deep underground, forever. But corporations don’t have a good track record when it comes to pumping stuff underground. 

Oil and gas companies routinely inject drilling wastewater deep into the earth, and even wells deemed safe at the outset have leaked. Pumping wastewater underground has contaminated well water and even disrupted local geology, causing earthquakes.

Even if this end-use were foolproof, it’s not the one the carbon capture facilities actually use. In fact, 95% of carbon currently captured is used for enhanced oil recovery. That means the carbon is injected into old oil and gas wells to push out every last drop — contributing to our vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependence. 

Moreover, carbon capture is incredibly energy-intensive. That, combined with the emissions of the fossil fuels they perpetuate, has meant that U.S. carbon capture projects have actually led to a net increase in emissions, not a decrease.

And we are paying a lot for these emissions. Failed carbon capture projects have cost us billions in taxpayer dollars and will cost us billions more. We are paying through the nose for projects that don’t work, yet allow coal and other dirty energies to persist.

Carbon Capture is a Multi-Purpose Boondoggle

This climate scam will be used to greenwash a variety of dirty energy sources — for example, ethanol. Industry has touted ethanol made from growing corn as a “renewable” fuel source. But corn ethanol is actually an estimated 24% more emissions-intensive than gasoline. It also causes a host of other problems, from higher corn prices to entrenching industrial agriculture practices. 

Carbon capture stands to entrench the corn ethanol industry by green-washing it even more. The rush to get CCS technology into ethanol has already begun. Thousands of miles of pipelines planned for Iowa would transport CO2 from ethanol and fertilizer facilities to injection sites.

There’s hardly a dirty energy that carbon capture doesn’t prop up. The fossil fuel industry plans to use it to revive dying coal and fracked gas plants. If allowed, they’ll attach it to hydrogen power generation derived from fracked gas.

Across the dirty energy sector, corporations plan to use carbon capture as a cover to continue emitting, polluting and threatening our health and safety. 

Carbon Capture Entrenches Dangerous Industry in Vulnerable Communities

If industry execs get their way, carbon capture will subject frontline communities to more pollution. We already know that children playing near fossil fuel power plants are at greater risk for asthma and other respiratory illnesses. We know that fracking operations leak toxic chemicals into our air and water

Carbon capture would also require a huge infrastructure buildout with devastating consequences for those nearby. 

For example, carbon pipelines would turn a hefty profit for the same pipeline companies that have already wreaked havoc with oil and gas lines. From past experience, we can expect them to disrupt fragile ecosystems and threaten vulnerable communities. 

Carbon pipelines carry odorless, colorless CO2 that can displace oxygen and suffocate people to death. In 2020, a carbon pipeline ruptured in Satartia, Mississippi. The CO2 stopped emergency vehicles in their tracks, as it displaced the oxygen needed for fuel combustion. It sent 49 people to the hospital, and many victims still experienced symptoms months later.

We’ve already seen dangerous oil and gas pipelines leak, rupture and pollute. A carbon capture future means a future with even more deadly illnesses and accidents.  

We Won’t Let The Fossil Fuel Industry Get Away With Its Latest Scam

Compared to a full green energy transition, carbon capture doesn’t add up. We know renewables are proven, safer and cheaper. Unlike carbon capture, we don’t need more demonstration projects or research and development to see if renewables actually work.

Fossil fuel corporations are waving the illusion of carbon capture in our faces, distracting us from the energy transition we know we need. If allowed to continue, they’ll use it to double down on dirty energy, saddling the rest of us with more pollution and even more emissions. And there isn’t a region of this country CCS won’t touch. Projects threaten states across the country, from California to New Mexico to Ohio

With the flood of public funds rushing into the carbon capture industry, it’s more important than ever to take a stand against these projects. In the coming months, Food & Water Watch will be keeping you up to date with new proposals and new scams. 

When the fracking boom hit, we quickly recognized that this new “bridge fuel” would be a bridge to nowhere. That it would harm communities and fail to fight climate change. Now, we see the fossil fuel industry playing the same game with carbon capture. We can’t and we won’t let them stall us on real climate action.

Knowledge is power. Share it with your friends and family!

How Biogas Factories Could Put Our Lowest State Underwater

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Climate and Energy

by Greg Layton

We know we’re running out of time on climate change. Without a rapid drawdown on fossil fuels, catastrophic effects of global warming will become unavoidable. But in Delaware, the poultry industry and its allies are going in the opposite direction. They’re promoting a new fuel: methane derived from poultry waste. Rather than reduce emissions, biogas will only worsen the climate effects, like sea-level rise, for our country’s lowest-lying state.

Biogas Will Lock in Climate-Warming Emissions

Plans to extract methane from poultry waste in Sussex County threaten to add to  greenhouse gas emissions for years to come.

Delaware currently faces two proposed projects, one by Bioenergy DevCo and one by CleanBay Renewables. These projects would release massive amounts of methane, the greenhouse gas 90 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Emissions from the Bioenergy DevCo project alone would have the same per-year climate impact of a typical car driving 71 million miles

Poultry waste itself doesn’t emit significant amounts of methane. However, the biogas projects planned for Delaware deliberately create new greenhouse gases to “capture” for profit. To do that, they need to haul in factory farm waste from around the tri-state area. All that means more emissions, to the tune of more than 20,000 diesel-powered truck trips per year. 

On top of that, it appears that the methane from Bioenergy DevCo would not be used instead of fracked gas; it would be used in addition to fracked gas. This will entrench fossil fuels in addition to factory farms, while allowing the industry to slap the “renewable” label on the same old climate-destroying gas system.

Without serious climate action, here’s what Delawareans can expect.

Hotter Weather

The average temperature in Delaware has risen about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895. Within 50 to 60 years, scientists expect the state’s average temperature to exceed its preindustrial average by more than 4 degrees. Extremely hot days will likely also increase. Currently, Delawareans experience an average of two days over 100 degrees each year, but scientists predict we’ll experience as many as 28 days above 100 degrees by 2100. Heat waves are already the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States, and climate change will only make them worse.

Sea-Level Rise

Melting polar ice sheets have caused the world’s oceans and bays to rise, and Delaware, already the lowest-lying state in the nation, is sinking at the same time. (In fact, sea level is rising at Bowers Beach, Del. faster than anywhere else on the East Coast.) Sea level along Delaware’s coasts has already risen more than one foot since 1900. With continued warming, Delaware’s coasts will likely disappear under anywhere from 16 to 48 inches in the next century.

Property Loss

If Delaware’s coastal sea levels rise even two feet, the state will lose about 8% of its land (a little over 110,000 acres) and nearly all of its protected wetlands.  Dozens — if not hundreds — of homes would be destroyed. Currently, about 22,000 Delawareans are at risk from coastal flooding, but that number could surpass 30,000 in just a few decades. Millions of dollars of damage are almost inevitable, and would be devastating to Delaware’s beachside tourism industry.

Pests and Disease 

Climate change will warm the state earlier in the year and bring more rain — and more puddles. This is like rolling out a welcome mat for mosquitos. Though already, researchers estimate that Delaware’s mosquito season has extended weeks beyond its historical average. And more mosquitoes means more opportunity for blood-borne diseases like Zika and West Nile Virus to spread. 

Ecological Mayhem

Finally, climate change will displace wildlife and their habitats. For instance, each spring, nearly a million migratory shorebirds feast on horseshoe crab eggs in tidal flats and beaches. But those tidal flats and beaches will likely disappear underwater. 

Additionally, rising sea levels will bring salt water further up rivers, eventually intruding into aquifers near the coast. Soils might become too salty for crops and trees that currently grow in low-lying areas. Upland, early warm weather could prompt many wildflowers and woodland plants to grow and blossom too soon for the migratory animals that feed on them. 

How You Can Fight Back

Ultimately, we must transition off of carbon-based fuels like methane as quickly as possible. Pursuing new sources is unconscionable. Delaware’s elected officials must instead urgently pursue real solutions to the climate crisis. Biogas has no part in that solution.

The companies behind the biogas scheme need state permits to go ahead with their dirty projects. Governor John Carney has the power to say NO to biogas. Use your voice to tell him that Delaware doesn’t need another source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tell Governor Carney that Delaware is done with greenhouse gases.