Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Skating to the dark side on thin ice

June 29, 2008

When burned, coal produces three times its own weight in carbon dioxide (CO2) -- making it far dirtier than any other energy source, per unit of usable energy. Carbon dioxide is the main human contributor to global warming, so as more people worry about the future of human civilization in a hothouse world, new coal plants are being canceled across the country.

To protect its enormous investment in land, equipment, politicians and environmental groups, the coal industry has bet its future on an untried technology called "carbon capture and storage" (CCS). The idea is to capture the carbon dioxide emitted by burning coal, compress it into a liquid and bury it a mile below ground, hoping it will stay there forever.

The coal industry's fanciful name for this is "clean coal," a.k.a. carbon sequestration. And even though clean coal does not actually exist anywhere on Earth, the industry has sold the idea so effectively that more than 60 percent of Americans say they favor it.

To gain permission to build new coal plants, the coal and electric power industries are now promising the moon: "This new coal plant will be 'capture-ready.' Just let us build this plant now, and we'll add a CCS unit onto the back end as soon as CCS technology has matured and is affordable."

In other words, the industry is saying, "Let us build 'capture-ready' coal plants now, and someday, eventually, maybe, we'll be able to capture the CO2 and bury it in the ground, where we hope it will remain forever."

This is precisely the situation at Duke Energy's 'capture-ready' plant being proposed at Edwardsport in Knox County, upwind of Bloomington.

The 630-megawatt Edwardsport plant will emit an estimated 4,300 tons of CO2 per year (unless and until CCS is tacked onto the plant). Therefore, during its 40-year lifetime, the plant will produce an estimated 172,000 tons, or 344 million pounds, of CO2.

Duke Energy executives insist that the deep earth beneath Edwardsport is ideal for storing hazardous liquid CO2. At least one major environmental group -- the Clean Air Task Force, headquartered in Boston -- agrees with them.

A recent news report in the Herald-Times says, "Clean Air Task Force representative John W. Thompson describes the Duke carbon sequestration initiative as a pioneering effort that could provide a template for other companies and countries to ameliorate global warming by safely storing carbon dioxide..."

When Duke Energy officials met with the editorial board of the Herald-Times, the Clean Air task Force tagged along to provide Duke Energy a patina of green.

Indiana earthquakes so powerful they shake the ground in New Hampshire

Edwardsport lies in Knox County in southwestern Indiana, about 55 miles north of Evansville. Southwestern Indiana lies atop a geologic feature known as the "Wabash Seismic Zone." Because it was only discovered in recent decades, the Wabash Seismic zone is not nearly so well known as the nearby "New Madrid Seismic Zone."

The New Madrid Seismic Zone is famous for the earth-shattering quakes it spawned during 1811 and 1812 -- some quakes registered a magnitude 8 on the Richter scale and were felt in New Hampshire and rang church bells in Washington, D.C., according to the Indiana Geological Survey.

Here's what the Central United States Earthquake Consortium has to say about the Wabash Seismic Zone:

"Recent studies have indicated that the New Madrid Seismic Zone is not the only 'hot spot' for earthquakes in the Central United States. On June 18, 2002, a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck Evansville, with an epicenter between Mt. Vernon and West Franklin in Posey County, in an area that is part of the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone. ...

"The Wabash Valley Seismic Zone is located in Southeastern Illinois and Southwestern Indiana, and it is capable of producing 'New Madrid' size earthquake events. ..."

Just two months ago, on April 18, a magnitude 5.2 earthquake shook the Wabash zone, with its epicenter only 34 miles from Edwardsport. Since then nearly three dozen earthquakes have occurred in the Wabash zone, 29 of them strong enough for local people to feel.

In other words, the Wabash zone is very active: "A magnitude 1.0 earthquake is probably happening once a week somewhere in the Wabash seismic zone," says Michael Hamburger, an IU professor of geological sciences.

Lubricating the geology

Read the rest of the article here