Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Capturing carbon or public support? The 2 billion dollar conversation

The Sleipner A project injects carbon dioxide into saltwater aquifers deep beneath the sea floor off the Norwegian coast. (Credit: Statoil) / sciencedaily.com
Carbon capture has been a hot topic in Alberta for a few years now. It's pretty well been the government's pre-canned response to any criticism of the environment related to the oil sands. For example:
As such, he cites committing $2 billion to carbon capture and storage - touted by industry and government as a way to green oilsands development.

Alberta's media has been flooded with references to this 2 billion dollar deal as a successful solution to oil sands carbon pollution. For the record, I don't think oil sands carbon pollution is really all that bad in comparison to the tailings, acid rain, or impact on the water table but for the sake of this post let's assume that is the top priority. So lets have a look at whether or not CCS is really a "solution" to the problem. Here is the problem:
How can we generate more power and produce more goods without increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while keeping energy just as affordable, if not more affordable?
 I think that pretty well describes the problem CCS is being touted as a solution for but if you disagree please comment. Now looking at that picture there -- I think it's reasonably safe to say that cost is not cheap. Obviously that's the Norwegian offshore way but just recently their CCS program was in the news as being set back considerably.
A Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) facility at the Mongstad oil refinery in western Norway was originally planned to be in place by 2014 but has been delayed several times.
"An investment decision could be taken latest in 2016," the Norwegian oil and energy ministry said in a statement. In May it had said a decision on investments would be postponed to 2014.
CCS may cut the contribution of coal and gas-fired power plants to global warming by trapping and burying carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is untested on a commercial scale.
The most interesting part I find from this exert is "coal and gas-fired power plants", not oil sands. The oil sands are large and spread out. CCS itself uses enormous amounts of power which Alberta is already the top consumer in Canada of largely in part to the oil sands. This would make CCS ideal for Coal or Gas plants in Alberta but what does that have to do with making the oil sands cleaner? Well in my last article I demonstrated that the majority of our new power consumption is from the oil sands itself so in a sense yes CCS would "make them cleaner"; so why isn't the government explaining it that way? I'm guessing they would prefer Albertans not look at how much demand the oil sands are themselves creating.

Anyway, back to the topic of CCS. As I was mentioning that CCS itself is energy intensive, the equipment must be built, it takes huge amounts of energy to compress the carbon, and the storage theories for carbon capture certainly have some safety concerns. Further, no oil sand related companies have as of yet stepped up to the plate with the implementation of CCS in oil sands development. Why? My guess is as with anything oil sands, it simply is not cost productive to do as producing them in their current state is only cost productive by socializing losses.

The only conclusion I can be left with is P.R., 100% P.R. We'll probably never see it implemented, and I wouldn't count on the 2 billion set aside for it to still be there either (but that is another conversation all together). It's likely gone with the 25 million wasted on a website and that shitty slogan no one can remember. Public relations change instead of real change because the truth is we can't afford the real change without the big business on top "taking a hair cut".

What was that slogan again? Freedom to exploit, spirit to believe?

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