Don’t buy snake oil in form of carbon capture

  • By Eric Engle
  • Aug 30, 2023

Charleston Gazette-Mail

The idea of carbon capture and storage (aka carbon capture and sequestration or in some cases carbon capture, utilization and storage or sequestration) has captured the imagination of West Virginia’s state and federal politicians. That’s about all it significantly captures, though.

The technology doesn’t capture even a fraction of what’s needed and envisioned after decades of effort. This proposition is well on its way to becoming a financial boondoggle, public health and environmental nightmare and a major factor in why we fall well short of greenhouse gas emissions reductions that we absolutely must achieve.

We at Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action were one of 17 groups that sent a letter to the U.S. EPA recently requesting that the federal agency not grant primacy over Class VI injection wells for the storage of captured carbon dioxide to the state of West Virginia. We have numerous reasons for concern.

For one, West Virginia regulators do not have the experience or expertise necessary to effectively oversee these wells. Class VI wells are fairly new developments as injection wells go. Secondly, West Virginia regulators lack the capacity or resources to oversee this additional class of wells. Despite recent legislative efforts, West Virginia has the lowest inspector to well ratio of any state in the region, and that ratio is not going to rise to acceptable levels anytime soon. It will continue to be about one inspector per 3,500 wells for the foreseeable future.

West Virginia law also allows owners and operators to evade liability for storage facilities, in this case underground pore spaces located below our state parks and wilderness areas, socializing risks while privatizing profits. To quote from the letter to the EPA, “in 2022, West Virginia passed [House Bill] 4491, allowing storage operators to be released ‘from all liability and regulatory requirements associated with the storage facility’ as early as 10 years after completion of a storage project, with the state assuming the responsibility for monitoring and managing the storage facility.”

Finally, the state government in West Virginia has shown time and again that the public engagement and participation in new energy projects they allow is all but nonexistent, and what does exist is just a formality with no meaningful influence. Those of us in the groups who sent this letter to the EPA saw this on full display just recently when offering public comment to the West Virginia Economic Development Authority. The WVEDA made a decision to write a $62.5 million loan using taxpayer dollars for a proposed facility in Mason County right outside of Point Pleasant and the public was all but shut out and completely ignored.

The Mason County proposal is for a blue hydrogen production facility (blue hydrogen is hydrogen obtained from methane gas with the associated carbon dioxide captured and sequestered) and an accompanying biomass usage facility. The project goal is to use the hydrogen and biomass to power data centers, greenhouses, steel production and transportation. The promise is 4,000 construction jobs and 800 permanent jobs with average wages at those permanent jobs of at least $110,000 a year. If you believe that will come to fruition, I’ve got oceanfront property I’d like to sell you in Mason County.

Want a more likely scenario? Look no further than the fracked gas industry that will supply the hydrogen behemoth in Mothman territory. To quote from analysis by the Ohio River Valley Institute, an independent, nonpartisan research and communications center focused on the Ohio River Valley, “Appalachia’s largest gas-producing counties have continued to drastically underperform the region and the nation in job, population and income growth since the beginning of the fracking boom. These 22 counties lost 10,339 jobs and 47,652 residents between 2008 and 2021.”

What about the methane released throughout every step of the natural gas recovery and use process? Methane, while shorter-lived in the atmosphere, is 86-times more efficient at trapping heat over a 20-year period than carbon dioxide. There’s no discussion of methane in these plans.

What about the fact that carbon dioxide displaces oxygen and, if it leaks from the miles of pipelines and numerous storage sites being proposed, could cause internal combustion engine failure or, far worse, widespread asphyxiation? Crickets.

What about the fact that carbon dioxide can form carbonic acid when stored underground and cause a breakdown of storage sites and combine with co-pollutants to cause immense harm to water resources? Nothing.

These ideas stink of desperation by the fossil fuels and derivative industries to maintain their enormously profitable status quo. Green hydrogen — produced using renewable energy to split water molecules to obtain and use the hydrogen atoms — is the most promising path for hydrogen’s decarbonizing future. There is also the possibility of white hydrogen, which is hydrogen obtained directly from the earth in what are hopefully safely and justly recoverable deposits. Blue hydrogen, like the rest of the hydrogen color scheme, is nonsense.

We’re being sold snake oil again, my fellow West Virginians, and we need to let our politicians know unequivocally that we’re not buying.

Eric Engle, of Parkersburg, is board president of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.