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"Putting it back" - a series on storage of CO2 (part 3)

Global NGO views on CCS and storage of CO2

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CCS is considered by many to be one of the important solutions towards lowering emissions and slowing down global warming, but not everyone agrees. We talked to NGOs around the world to let them explain their standpoint on CCS and the public opinion in their part of the world.

This is the third article in a series of five about storage. You can read the previous article, Myths and Facts about CO2 Storage, here. Article number four will cover a case study looking at the potential for long-term CO2 sequestration beneath the North Sea.

Canada is world-leading when it comes to CCS, and we talked to Chris Severson-Baker, Managing Director of the Canadian Pembina Institute about CCS and why it plays such an important role in the battle against global warming. He explains that it is critical for society to start capturing, and thus mitigating,CO2 emissions now. The world will continue to use fossil fuels while changing to alternative energy sources, which is a view supported by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Severson-Baker says the technology exists and is working, but the challenge is the economic and regulatory sides of CCS. CCS is expensive and not a low cost technology.

- The price will come down once the technology is implemented on a larger scale, but this will not happen on it’s own. We need a regulatory framework. The real concern is the lack of political will to follow through with CCS projects.

Pembina is currently working on a report on the Canadian public’s view on CCS together with the government of Alberta.

- It is hard to know what the public view is like, but the local communities in the areas where CCS projects are being developed are generally supportive.

There is not much talk about CCS in Canada and there are no large groups or NGOs that work actively against CCS.

- The biggest challenge for the public opinion on CCS in Canada, says Severson-Baker, is the series of problems with injecting steam in the tar sand projects. This can reflect badly on CCS and people might think this is the same as injecting CO2 into the ground.

It can be challenging for the government to calm the public’s opinion about CCS without demonizing the oil industry at the same time, because the government has to protect the interests of both industries. This means that it is up to the NGOs to distribute information about the safety of injecting CO2 into the ground.

One of the organisations that is most strongly opposed to CCS is Greenpeace. Greenpeace’s leading campaigner on CCS, Iris Cheng, explains why.

- Greenpeace believes that CCS is highly unrealistic as an option for delivering carbon emissions reduction of the scale and timeframe that would make a difference to climate change. Despite US $52 billions of public funding committed to CCS development, CCS is still unproven commercially. There are only eight demonstration projects in operation globally, falling far short of the International Energy Agency's CCS roadmap of 100 plants by 2020 and 3,000 plants by 2050.

Another concern for Greenpeace is that most of the CO2 that is being captured is used for Enhanced Oil recovery (EOR), which they fear will result in a net increase in emissions.

- Additionally, CCS is also legally risky for the operators, and strongly opposed by local communities. Theoretical modeling shows it takes decades to centuries before the carbon dioxide is fully locked in the geological formation. There are many unanswered questions: what happens when we inject gigatonnes of CO2 underground? Do we know what CO2 leakage from CCS project looks like? Who bears the burden of proof? Burying CO2 underground basically passes the problem of our era to the future generations.

When asked what the alternatives to CCS are, Cheng replies:

- The only way to deliver the CO2 emissions reduction required to avoid catastrophic climate change is to curb coal and oil consumption. We need to change the way we generate and consume energy.

She believes that the shift towards renewable energy has already started with the EU closing more coal and nuclear plants that is installed and with emerging economies like China installing more wind that coal plants for the first time ever.

Germanwatch share some of Greenpeace’s reservations against CCS as they view it as a end-of –the-pipe technology which is not a part of a portfolio of sustainable technologies. However, they do acknowledge that there are situations where it can be used.

Manfred Treber, Senior Adviser at Germanwatch, expands:

- There are situations where the use of CCS might be an important solution to combat climate change and to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees. The most problematic part of CCS is the storage sites. If CCS were to be used on a global scale with high volumes, the leakage rate would have to be smaller than 0.01 per cent per year. Otherwise the benefit for the climate would be too low.

When asked what the alternatives to CCS are, he continues:

- For a below 2 degrees path the use of fossil fuels has to stop in the long run and sustainable renewable energies have to cover the energy supply.

- With regards to the electricity production as part of the supply side, it is easier and faster to shift to renewables. Germanwatch supports a development in the direction of electricity production being completely covered by renewables by 2050 and CO2-free-electricity production by 2030.

This will not cover the industrial process emissions, like for the cement and steel industry, and while Germanwatch favours research and development of new processes, they understand that there is a need to use CCS to achieve emission reductions compatible with a below-2-degrees path.

Germans are, like the Canadians, generally not well informed about CCS, but the exception is people who live nearby potential storage sites. Unlike the Canadians, the Germans are negative because they fear leaks. This also affect people who are positive towards CCS and who live close to storage sites, because the fear of leaks is enough to depreciate the value of their land and properties. Manfred Treber says that the German CCS law was designed in a way so that it is not stimulating CCS, due to this opposition.

Natur og Ungdom, also known as Young Friends of the Earth Norway, say CCS is an important instrument to reduce greenhouse gases.

- We have to become carbon neutral to achieve the 2-degree goal, says Ida Lovise Skylstad, vice-chair in the youth organisation.

She thinks removing CO2 is an important step towards the goal, and for that we need CCS.

- The most important instrument would be to replace fossil energy with renewable energy, but today’s energy needs makes CCS necessary in order to make the changes swiftly enough.

Skylstad’s impression is that Norwegians do not know much about CCS. The debate in Norway is very technical and hard to grasp. Those who know anything about it are researcher or technology students and most people do not hear about CCS on a daily basis.

- Norway, with its wealth, has the possibility to lead the CCS technology and should do so if one wants to succeed in developing full-scale CCS projects.


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