Friday, July 31, 2009

House Hearing On Carbon Sequestration & Drinking Water Protection

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July 2008

Jul 24: The House Energy & Commerce Committee, Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, Chaired by Representative Gene Green (D-TX), held a hearing entitled, Carbon Sequestration: Risks, Opportunities, and Protection of Drinking Water. Witnesses testifying at the hearing included Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator Office of Water for U.S. EPA, and representatives from: Energy Resources Team U.S. Geological Survey National Center; Strategic Center for Coal of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE); Oil and Gas Commission; American Water Works Association (AWWA); Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin; Environmental Defense Fund (EDF); and the Coal Utilization Research Council.

In opening remarks, full Committee Chairman John Dingell (D-MI) said, "Water is critical to growth and economic development in many areas of the country, and will become even more so in future years. In pursuing the goal of carbon capture and storage, a system must be in place that protects the quality of drinking water sources and assures the public that this is a safe way to proceed. Approximately one week ago EPA released proposed regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act designed to achieve these goals [
See WIMS 7/15/08]. I look forward to EPA’s testimony and the views of our other witnesses on the adequacy of the proposed regulations and any gaps that remain to be addressed.

EPA testified that geologic sequestration associated with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is a promising technology that provides an innovative solution for reducing emissions of (CO2) to the atmosphere, while safeguarding our country’s underground sources of drinking water. EPA said the UIC program is focused on protecting public health by preventing injection wells from contaminating underground sources of drinking water. EPA’s proposed regulations build on more than 35 years of experience in the UIC program of safely injecting fluids, either liquid, gas or slurry, including CO2, into the subsurface. Annually, billions of gallons of fluids are injected underground through wells authorized under State and Federal UIC Programs. This includes approximately 35 million tons of carbon dioxide that are injected for the purposes of enhancing oil and gas recovery.

The buoyancy of CO2, its potential corrosivity when in water, the potential presence of impurities in captured CO2, its mobility within subsurface formations, and the large injection volumes anticipated at full scale deployment, have all been considered in requirements tailored to the new practice of injecting CO2 for long-term storage. EPA’s proposal would create a new well type -- a Class VI UIC well. EPA said, "We believe we have developed a framework that will ensure safe injection in the present and safe storage in the future."

USGS testified that Section 711 of the Energy Independence and Security Act (P.L. 110-140), enacted into law in December 2007, authorized the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the USGS, to develop an assessment methodology and conduct a national assessment of geological storage capacity in collaboration with the Secretary of Energy, the Administrator of EPA, and the State geological surveys. USGS will collaborate with DOE to incorporate the results of the assessment into future revisions of the DOE “Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada”. The cumulative advances from these earlier USGS studies and DOE-funded activities provide a basis for developing a methodology to assess the national capacity to store CO2 and understand the potential impacts of large-scale deployment of geologic sequestration.

DOE testified that the 2006 Carbon Sequestration Atlas contains information on major CO2 emission point sources, geologic formations with sequestration potential, and some terrestrial ecosystems that offer the potential for enhanced carbon uptake – all referenced to their geographic location to enable analysis of CO2 sources and storage sites. An interactive version of the Atlas is publicly available through the National Carbon Explorer (NATCARB) website [See below]. DOE is funding a network of seven Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnerships to help develop technology, infrastructure, and best practices/protocols for implementing CO2 sequestration in different geologies of the Nation. This approach includes engaging local organizations and citizens to contribute expertise, experience, and perspectives that represent their concerns and goals.

AWWA testified, "Our overarching concern regarding geologic carbon sequestration is the potential contamination of underground sources of drinking water (USDW) from such activities and the potential for other unintended, and possibly harmful, consequences. AWWA is particularly concerned about the potential for contamination of sole source aquifers and suggests that these aquifers be provided with special protective measures. An aquifer receives the designation of “sole source aquifer” if it is located in an area where there are few or no alternative sources to the ground water resource, and where if contamination occurred, using an alternative source would be extremely expensive. AWWA urges caution on the implementation of large-scale, commercial geologic carbon sequestration, as little data are available regarding the potential effects of this technology on drinking water resources. . . AWWA recommends that commercial-scale carbon sequestration not be deployed until the results of the large-scale Department of Energy pilot projects have been received and reviewed. . . "

AWWA also draws attention to the significant issue of long-term liability resolved. EPA’s proposed geologic carbon sequestration rule cannot address financial responsibility of the sequestration site after the formal period of post-injection site care has ended (default of 50 year length). AWWA says Congress must develop legislation that will address the issue of who has to assume financial responsibility of the sequestration site after the site closure requirements have been fulfilled and anticipates a means by which drinking water utilities could recover any costs incurred as a result contamination.