It’s become increasingly obvious that the climate crisis is not only real, it’s devastating and hitting hard sooner than expected. The number one cause is fossil fuels. Thus, calls to phase them out are becoming more numerous and louder; at the same time, the remaining fossil fuels are becoming more expensive and difficult to extract. Solar and wind power, on the other hand, are still getting cheaper. What’s the poor fossil fuel industry to do?
Here in West Virginia, it’s mostly gas we’re talking about. The industry tried to ramp up exports but ran into problems with too few pipelines and glutted markets abroad. Creating a petrochemical complex to use the natural gas liquids also ran into glutted markets as well as environmental problems.
So now there’s a new gambit. The idea is that we’ll keep burning fossil fuels, but we’ll capture the carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, and bury it underground. But there are myriad problems, so this is not a genuine solution at all.
Carbon capture and sequestration — CCS — has been waved around as a supposed solution for decades. It was the chief component of so-called “clean coal.” A number of pilot plants have been built, but like the Mountaineer plant, the one in West Virginia, they generally turn out to only capture a small percentage of the CO2 and eventually shut down because they’re too expensive. It takes 30% more coal to get the same power when running with CCS. And it doesn’t capture emissions from other parts of the supply chain, nor does it help with other pollutants. Actually, most of the CO2 captured so far has gone into EOR — enhanced oil recovery, where it is pumped into old oil wells to stimulate increased flow. Obviously, this is not a climate solution.
Given the massive additional expense of CCS, how could the industry possibly compete with renewables if this became widespread or mandated? You can guess, right? Taxpayer subsidies will bail out the industry. We will pay the industry to build plants that (may) capture (some of) the carbon dioxide so they can keep going. But if these plants did become widespread, they would need a whole new network of pipelines to take the captured CO2 from the plants to sequestration sites — a network expected to be larger than the entire existing network of pipelines!
Of course, there will be opposition to CO2 pipelines, and if you think they won’t be hazardous, check out what happened in Satartia, Mississippi, when a carbon dioxide pipeline leaked.
Despite all these problems, the U.S. Department of Energy is now pushing a proposal to fund this gargantuan pipeline buildout, supported by senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito. They talk about the pipeline jobs, but since there could be even more jobs if we finally got serious about transitioning to renewable energy, I suspect the real concern is for their campaign contributors.
The AFL-CIO supports this scheme, too. But if we want pipeline workers to have jobs, why don’t we finally address the problem of ancient, leaky water and gas pipelines in our cities? Bryce Payne, Ph.D., did a study of leaking methane in Manhattan and found two to 10 times what industry and the EPA had estimated. This leakage is an air pollutant as well as a greenhouse gas, and a waste of fuel. In the case of water lines, there’s no pollution issue, but wasting water is problematic as clean drinking water becomes scarce. Many cities also have lead pipes, which can cause brain damage, especially in children. Isn’t it time we replaced or repaired all this ancient infrastructure—thus providing pipeline jobs?