Editors Blog

Murphy's Law: Carbon Sequestration Folly

August 18, 2009
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While watching a DVD with my daughter entitled “Envy” starring Ben Stiller and Jack Black, I suddenly began to wonder where the carbon dioxide emissions would go if buried in underground rock formations. The technology is being researched now, and will get additional funding to the tune of $1.1 billion if the Waxman-Markey climate bill becomes law. The objective is to make coal-burning power plants cleaner.

A big capture device at coal plants will first bond CO2 with ammonia, then separate it from the ammonia in preparation for another process of supersonic shockwaves that compresses the nasty carbon emissions prior to them being buried thousands of feet underground.

It all sounds very complicated. Really, why bond the carbon and ammonia if it is just going to be separated again? Weren’t they separated to begin with? Oh well. It is certainly for much smarter minds to figure out the details.

This carbon capture and storage process will be immensely expensive and take nearly a decade to become commercially available.

But, here is what really worries me. In the movie, Black’s character invents VaPooRizer, a spray that makes pet poop simply disappear. Angry environmentalists chanted “Where does the [poop] go. We want to know!”

Stay with me on this one.

John Tombari, an executive at Schlumberger Carbon Services, told the Washington Post, “If carbon sequestration is to have an impact on the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, we will need to inject billions of tons of CO2 underground over the next 40 to 50 years and store them for very much longer.”

Herein lay the dilemma: Like everything else in this world, stuff leaks. Water follows the path of least resistance, gas expands to find the tiniest crevices, iron- and concrete-clad nuclear reactors develop cracks, and refrigerant can’t seem to stay put inside the confines of copper coils. Why would anyone expect billions of tons of CO2 to stay underground in what is a fairly porous Earth that we live on? I’d like to know who is going to warranty that piping system.

So, I ask, where does the poop go when it won’t stay underground, and how much damage can it do on the way back up?
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