[Originally published at Red, Green, and Blue]
Did Canadian Environment Minister Jim Prentice speak too presumptively on Friday when he said the capture and sequestration of carbon dioxide is already proven and being applied on a commercial basis?
Speaking in the context of the recently agreed upon U.S.-Canada dialogue on clean energy and the upcoming Copenhagen round of climate talks, The Canadian Press reports that Environment Minister JIm Prentice said that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a critical component of the energy equation that is currently being applied commercially "in enhanced oil recovery kinds of operations" and will be in the future.
Prentice was referring to the Weyburn oilfied project owned and operated by EnCana which receives CO2 transported via pipeline from a lignite-fired coal-to-liquid fuel plant in North Dakota and injects it into underground reservoirs, thereby making the oil fields "more productive."
Let me make what I think are two important points: First, Mr. Prentice's Pollyanish prediction about the present-day viability of the capture of CO2—despite estimates that it will not be commercially viable until 2020 at the earliest and 2030 to 2050 at the latest—was not exactly 'telling it like it is.'
The reality is that the long-term efficacy of the underground reservoirs at Wayburn and elsewhere are not known. In the scientifically complex issue of CCS enough misinformation is being bandied about clean coal by the coal industry that the Minister of the Environment should have the wherewithal to not mislead on such an important issue. The problem is that Mr. Prentice did not sufficiently distinguish between what he hopes will happen and what is happening currently.
Second, if we are going to allow carbon sequestration to be defined as a process of using gas that is produced as a byproduct of manufacturing dirty burning synfuels to squeeze out even more fossil fuels from the ground, releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere, it seems that some more thorough accounting procedures of the net "benefits" need to be put into place.
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