“Making CO2 an Energy Asset” – Wall Street Journal, 16 July 2014

Though carbon dioxide has had a disastrous impact on our environment, the energy industry can actually use it for some good: inserting CO2 into oil fields actually boosts oil production.

Coal-burning power plants emit man-made CO2 into the air, and oil drillers typically find their CO2 underground caverns or industrial facilities. However, New York-based electricity manufacturer NRG Energy Inc. is aiming to do things a little differently. NRG’s new strategy is to trap CO2 emitted from one of its Houston coal-fired plants and siphon the CO2 to a nearby oil field. NRG and its Japanese partner JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. will be given half the extra output. The project is hoped to be finished by 2016.

NRG, JX Nippon, and the US Energy Department are spearheading the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, with the aim to simultaneously decrease pollution from coal-burning plants while increasing oil output.

Yet, it’s an expensive process, and many utilities’ participation in carbon capture has been unfavorable. Atlanta-based Southern Co. is wrapping up on a Mississippi power plant that will transform coal into combustible gas while also ridding the gas of pollutants, like CO2. It’s costing the company $5.5 billion, the priciest coal plant in the US.

Another method where the industry has tried, and failed, is ridding flue gases of carbon after the coal has been used. Part of the process is selling the CO2, but carbon has never sold for enough to rationalize the effort and money used to strip the carbon in the first place. Adapting a coal-fired power plant to new technology is more expensive than building a new gas-fired power plant.

NRG’s project will be different, because instead of selling carbon, the project aims to make a profit from selling the supplementary oil. The CO2 that NRG will funnel into the oil field is predicted to increase oil generation by 10,000 barrels per day — from its current 500 barrels to 15,000 barrels.

When additional CO2 is introduced in underground oil reservoirs, the gas forces the remaining crude to rise to the surface. Overall, the DOE expects that oil production will expand to 360,000 barrels per day in 2020, and 580,000 in 2030.

A majority of the CO2 used to pump oil out of reservoirs originates from underground caverns and other natural formations, and industrial projects. A bulk of our man-made CO2 comes from the power industry, which uses a lot of coal since it’s a cheap source of power. The power industry is also our largest unused CO2 supplier; there might be a bright future for NRG’s project after all.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 23, 2015

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“Study: Keystone pollution higher” – Politico, 10 August 2014

According to a report from the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Keystone XL pipeline — the 1,700-mile pipeline that would send 800,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Canada sand formations to Texas refineries — could potentially emit four times as much pollution as initially determined by the State Department.

Estimates made by the US federal government didn’t consider that transporting extra oil through the new pipeline can potentially cause prices to fall by almost $3 per barrel. More oil means more consumption, and more consumption means more pollution. Yet, organizations like the American Petroleum Institute (API) view the study as trivial, as the oil will be produced and transported either way; if it wasn’t being shipped through the pipeline, then it would be shipped using the railroad, which could also increase emission levels.

The report projects that the pipeline can raise greenhouse gas emissions by about 121 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. The State Department noted that the pipeline would, at the most, only increase CO2 emissions by 30 million tons this year.

Earlier this year, President Obama was still undecided about approving the pipeline; and his administration’s approval has been extended until after the midterm US elections. Obama has been making an effort to reduce the US’s GHG emissions — the report indicates that the pipeline’s emissions could undercut the government’s new policies to curb pollution.

Many scientists from outside the study claim that the extra 121 million tons produced by the pipeline is insignificant compared to the 36 billion tons that we globally emitted in 2013. Still, approving the pipeline could weaken Obama’s new climate policy, which takes a firm stance on the effects of climate change.

See also:
Keystone pipeline: Obama’s unpleasant options
Pipeline Fight Lifts Environmental Movement

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 12, 2014

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“Coal Growing Its Share Of Global Energy Mix Despite World’s Greening Efforts” – IBTimes, 20 June 2014

Although natural gas has become the US’s go-to energy source, and both Europe and the US are bringing the proverbial hammer down on greenhouse gas emissions, coal is still in wide-use worldwide. China and India are the main culprits; since both countries are continuing to grow, they continue to use coal, since it’s one of the cheapest and most plentiful sources of energy. Together, the two countries are the reason coal consumption saw a three percent increase in 2013. Use of natural gas only rose in North America, while it fell everywhere else.

via IBTimes

via IBTimes

Though developed nations will continue to replace coal with renewable and cleaner energy sources, developing countries will continue to rely on coal, as coal will likely remain inexpensive and abundant.

While coal fulfilled 30.1 percent of the world’s energy needs in 2013, oil met 32.9 percent. The US invested a lot of time and money in fracking shale formations, which led to one of the biggest bouts of oil generation that we’ve seen.

But coal could still win the energy battle. In 2012, the International Energy Agency predicted that yearly worldwide consumption of coal would increase by 1.2 billion tons, making it the number one energy source in the world.

New climate policies by the US and Europe are bound to take a toll on the future of coal. Coal will become reliant on China, and even China is making an effort to decrease pollution and smog and use natural gas instead of coal.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 30, 2014

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The “War Of Words On Coal” Continues

Yesterday, the EPA presented new rules for power plants emissions, called the Clean Power Plan proposal. These rules are a small part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he is pursuing through executive action. The four building blocks of the EPA’s proposal are:

    • Cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels;
    • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
    • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days-providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
    • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

(via EPA)

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants have decreased by 13 percent since 2005. While different states will be given different emissions quotas, 30 percent is the US’s nationwide goal. States have up to three years to draft plans to meet their goals. Initial compliance plans are due June 30, 2016, but some states will be allotted a one-year extension. States that form multi-state plans will be allotted a two-year extension. If a state decides not to formulate a plan, then the EPA will write one for the state.

The EPA will present a number of options that will help the states meet target goals, such as helping power plants to become more efficient and spending more on sources of renewable energy. Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia have already passed laws that permit their environmental agencies to create unique carbon-emission plans. Louisiana and Ohio are also following suit.

Conservatives have been battling Obama’s climate regulations for months. As the 2014 midterm elections loom right around the corner, conservatives and their industry allies will do anything they can to stir the political pot and anger voters. Voters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia are the determining factor in whether or not the Democrats retain the Senate majority. Many Democrats who are openly against the new rules represent coal-producing states, such as West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall—96 percent of his state’s power comes from coal.

The coal industry contends that the new rules will have negative repercussions on the economy, including major damage to coal and manufacturing jobs, increased household electricity costs, and a rising number of brown-outs during extreme heat or cold. The US Chamber of Commerce—opponents of the new regulations—contend that the Clean Power Plan proposal will result in a loss of almost a quarter-million jobs through 2030, will force power plants across the US to shut down, and will inflict $50 billion in yearly costs.

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The US depends on coal for 40 percent of its electricity; however, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originate from electricity, and within that percentage, coal-fired power plants make up 80% of those emissions. Overall, coal-fired power plants expel 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

While conservatives, and some liberals, see the proposed regulations as an attack on the coal industry, Obama sees it as way to not only clean up our environment, but also as a way to avert a national health crisis. Current climate law is dictated by the decades-old Clean Air Act, which regulates pollutants like soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, but not carbon pollution.

The EPA will permit comment on the Clean Power Plan proposal for 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and will also conduct public hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28. The EPA’s proposed rules won’t be finalized until next year.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 2, 2014

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