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Pennsylvania landowners could be forced to accept carbon dioxide burial on their land

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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Amid a divided state Legislature, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans are finding rare common ground in a bill designed to usher in a new industry for capturing climate-altering carbon dioxide and burying it underground. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 831 would create an enforcement structure for carbon capture within the state, set a low bar for gaining consent from landowners near sites where carbon is injected into the ground and, in some cases, spare the fossil fuel industry from seismic monitoring — that is, watching for earthquakes, a known risk. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican representing north central Pennsylvania who has personal ties to the fossil fuel industry, cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 30-20 vote in April. It now moves to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. But a coalition of environmental groups said the bill is riddled with problems. Landowners could be left in the dark when the collected carbon is pumped into the ground near their properties, they said. Additionally, carbon dioxide could eventually leak into the atmosphere, posing a risk to both the environment and public health: In Satartia, Mississippi, a pipeline carrying carbon dioxide ruptured, sending 49 people to the hospital complaining of labored breathing, stomach disorders and mental confusion.  “Our concerns with this were pretty significant,” said Jen Quinn, legislative and political director at the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club. In introducing the legislation, Yaw pitched the bill as a proposal to direct state regulators to take over responsibility for the permitting process for carbon dioxide injection wells from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Read Next The EPA wanted to clean up steel mills. Then a group of Rust Belt senators got involved. Lylla Younes In reality, the bill, as written, would go much further than that. It would allow operators to inject carbon dioxide into underground geologic formations with permission from just 60 percent of the nearby landowners. It would allow operators to apply for a waiver ceding liability for these wells to the state after 10 years of a well’s completion. And it would allow operators to forgo seismic monitoring of the storage fields into which the carbon dioxide pumped into the earth, if they can prove that the field does not “pose significant risk.”  Several of these provisions, Quinn said, are “setting the bar very low.”  A report by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank, showed that no state sets the landowner consent bar at less than 60 percent.  The report also argued that waiving operators’ liability over their carbon storage fields will lead to negligence: Operators that know they won’t be held responsible for any mess in the long run won’t be incentivized to run a clean operation, the report said.  Capital & Main reached out to Sen. Yaw, author of SB 831, and did not hear back by publication time. However, he said in a press release that the bill is a “proactive step” to building out the state’s carbon capture industry.  Environmentalists have long splintered over carbon capture and sequestration, known as CCS. The practice of collecting carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground has been criticized as costly, dangerous and largely unproven. While some say it is a useful tool among many for addressing the climate crisis, others call CCS a boondoggle that could offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry, which has rallied around the technology. Read Next Illinois Legislature puts the brakes on a carbon capture boom Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco Environmentalists worry that in Pennsylvania, which has centuries of oil and gas drilling under its belt, the state’s geology could prove treacherous. “This idea that they’re going to go all in on carbon capture and try to inject this stuff in the same places where it’s like Swiss cheese … is just plain stupid,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of the grassroots Better Path Coalition, a staunch opponent of burying carbon in the earth. The state is dotted with orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, including many that likely have yet to be located. The wells create pathways underground through which gases can travel and potentially seep into waterways or leak into the atmosphere, undoing the progress of capturing the carbon in the first place. A 2009 report by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said that the state’s legacy oil and gas fields could “constitute a leakage pathway for reservoir gases, including injected CO2.” “The safest course of action would be to avoid the oldest of these oil fields,” the report added.  Feridun said she also anticipates that an influx of carbon dioxide injection wells will come with a maze of pipelines to transport the carbon. Because the bill would permit operators to get consent from only 60 percent of property owners atop an injection site, some landowners would be left without a voice in the process, the southwestern Pennsylvania-based Center for Coalfield Justice warned in an online petition opposing the bill. The petition urges signatories to send a message to their representatives with language such as: “If 40 percent of people within a carbon storage field don’t want carbon injected beneath their feet — the project can move forward anyway.”  Read Next EPA finally takes on abandoned coal ash ponds — but it might be too late Gautama Mehta Ethan Story, advocacy director at the Center for Coalfield Justice, believes few Pennsylvanians are aware of the bill and what it could mean to them. “Landowners, in addition to elected officials in some communities, are very unaware and uneducated on this proposal,” he said. “The immediate reaction from a majority of the community members that we have talked to and presented this information to has been met with great pause.”  SB 831 has been met with a different reaction in the state Legislature, where it’s earned — and sometimes lost — votes from Democrats and Republicans alike.  Affirmative votes in the Senate came from a handful of Democrats, including state Sens. Jay Costa from Pittsburgh and Christine Tartaglione from Philadelphia. Those who opposed the bill included Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican from south central Pennsylvania who made headlines in 2022 with a failed gubernatorial run and his full embrace of various hard-line policies, including a firm pro-fossil fuel stance. Carbon capture “is, to a degree, cutting across what we would probably classify as traditional ideological divisions,” said Sean O’Leary, senior researcher, energy and petrochemicals, at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank. One of carbon capture’s most crucial endorsements in the state came from Gov. Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, ran on an all-of-the-above strategy for tackling the climate crisis. He has now thrown his weight behind the technology as the state has pursued federal funding for hydrogen hubs. Carbon capture was also recently included in two of the governor’s climate proposals. Read Next Inside a California oil town’s divisive plan to survive the energy transition Jake Bittle “Carbon capture is crucial to Pennsylvania’s energy future,” Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder told Capital & Main. “We are glad to see a bipartisan group of senators agree with the governor that we need to invest in carbon capture and sequestration. “The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with leaders in both parties to ensure bipartisan legislation contains appropriate environmental, public health, and safety protections as it moves through the legislative process,” Bonder added.  Shapiro’s support for carbon capture could be key to getting SB 831 over the goal line in the Democratically controlled state House, despite warnings from environmentalists. It also has the backing of the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council, which makes campaign contributions to members on both sides of the aisle and which has supported fossil fuel and renewable projects alike. The bill currently sits in the House Consumer Protection, Technology, and Utilities Committee, where a handful of more straightforward climate bills — including one that would improve school district access to solar energy and another that would legalize community solar projects across the commonwealth — have advanced with unanimous support before winning votes on both sides of the aisle on the full floor. Capital & Main reached out to Democratic Rep. Rob Matzie, chair of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, for comment on the bill. Matzie did not respond by publication time. In the past, he has championed bills that proved to be a boon for fossil fuels, including one subsidizing a Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC plastics plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. When Shapiro released his carbon capture-infused energy plan, Matzie signaled his support: “These proposals will create good energy jobs, promote opportunities for technologies that will deliver power while reducing their carbon footprint, and — most importantly — maintain our status as a net exporter of energy,” he said in a news release in March. It’s an open question whether some of the provisions of SB 831 that are stoking environmentalists’ concern will make it through the House. But Democratic Rep. Emily Kinkead has offered an alternative proposal to the bill that incorporates provisions to protect environmental justice communities that have long been scarred with the detritus of the oil and gas industry. It would also offer heightened protections for landowners situated near carbon sequestration projects. Kinkead, from Pittsburgh, circulated a memo describing the bill on March 25 but has yet to introduce formal legislation.  Kinkead told Capital & Main she’s not certain such legislation will pass, but she hopes it will at least offer a starting point for negotiations to amend SB 831.  “I think the goal of my bill is, at the very least, to demonstrate that we don’t have to do it exactly the way that it’s outlined,” she said. “We can incorporate some better practices.”  If SB 831 passes the House without amendments, O’Leary, the Ohio River Valley Institute senior researcher, fears immediate repercussions for residents. At least one company — Omaha, Nebraska-based Tenaska — is already planning carbon dioxide injection in the fracking-heavy southwestern part of Pennsylvania. The company envisions using 80,000 acres stretching across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for up to 20 injection wells that would extend as far as 10,000 feet horizontally underground. This will require a yet unknown number of pipelines. Those who oppose burying carbon under their land, but fall into the 40 percent minority, will be out of luck.  This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Pennsylvania landowners could be forced to accept carbon dioxide burial on their land on Jun 16, 2024.

Environmentalists fear leaks, explosions, earthquakes and more from a carbon capture bill with bipartisan support.

Amid a divided state Legislature, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans are finding rare common ground in a bill designed to usher in a new industry for capturing climate-altering carbon dioxide and burying it underground.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 831 would create an enforcement structure for carbon capture within the state, set a low bar for gaining consent from landowners near sites where carbon is injected into the ground and, in some cases, spare the fossil fuel industry from seismic monitoring — that is, watching for earthquakes, a known risk.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican representing north central Pennsylvania who has personal ties to the fossil fuel industry, cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 30-20 vote in April. It now moves to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

But a coalition of environmental groups said the bill is riddled with problems. Landowners could be left in the dark when the collected carbon is pumped into the ground near their properties, they said. Additionally, carbon dioxide could eventually leak into the atmosphere, posing a risk to both the environment and public health: In Satartia, Mississippi, a pipeline carrying carbon dioxide ruptured, sending 49 people to the hospital complaining of labored breathing, stomach disorders and mental confusion. 

“Our concerns with this were pretty significant,” said Jen Quinn, legislative and political director at the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

In introducing the legislation, Yaw pitched the bill as a proposal to direct state regulators to take over responsibility for the permitting process for carbon dioxide injection wells from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

In reality, the bill, as written, would go much further than that. It would allow operators to inject carbon dioxide into underground geologic formations with permission from just 60 percent of the nearby landowners. It would allow operators to apply for a waiver ceding liability for these wells to the state after 10 years of a well’s completion. And it would allow operators to forgo seismic monitoring of the storage fields into which the carbon dioxide pumped into the earth, if they can prove that the field does not “pose significant risk.” 

Several of these provisions, Quinn said, are “setting the bar very low.” 

report by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank, showed that no state sets the landowner consent bar at less than 60 percent. 

The report also argued that waiving operators’ liability over their carbon storage fields will lead to negligence: Operators that know they won’t be held responsible for any mess in the long run won’t be incentivized to run a clean operation, the report said. 

Capital & Main reached out to Sen. Yaw, author of SB 831, and did not hear back by publication time. However, he said in a press release that the bill is a “proactive step” to building out the state’s carbon capture industry. 

Environmentalists have long splintered over carbon capture and sequestration, known as CCS. The practice of collecting carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground has been criticized as costly, dangerous and largely unproven. While some say it is a useful tool among many for addressing the climate crisis, others call CCS a boondoggle that could offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry, which has rallied around the technology.

Environmentalists worry that in Pennsylvania, which has centuries of oil and gas drilling under its belt, the state’s geology could prove treacherous. “This idea that they’re going to go all in on carbon capture and try to inject this stuff in the same places where it’s like Swiss cheese … is just plain stupid,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of the grassroots Better Path Coalition, a staunch opponent of burying carbon in the earth.

The state is dotted with orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, including many that likely have yet to be located. The wells create pathways underground through which gases can travel and potentially seep into waterways or leak into the atmosphere, undoing the progress of capturing the carbon in the first place. A 2009 report by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said that the state’s legacy oil and gas fields could “constitute a leakage pathway for reservoir gases, including injected CO2.”

“The safest course of action would be to avoid the oldest of these oil fields,” the report added. 

Feridun said she also anticipates that an influx of carbon dioxide injection wells will come with a maze of pipelines to transport the carbon.

Because the bill would permit operators to get consent from only 60 percent of property owners atop an injection site, some landowners would be left without a voice in the process, the southwestern Pennsylvania-based Center for Coalfield Justice warned in an online petition opposing the bill. The petition urges signatories to send a message to their representatives with language such as: “If 40 percent of people within a carbon storage field don’t want carbon injected beneath their feet — the project can move forward anyway.” 

Ethan Story, advocacy director at the Center for Coalfield Justice, believes few Pennsylvanians are aware of the bill and what it could mean to them. “Landowners, in addition to elected officials in some communities, are very unaware and uneducated on this proposal,” he said. “The immediate reaction from a majority of the community members that we have talked to and presented this information to has been met with great pause.” 

SB 831 has been met with a different reaction in the state Legislature, where it’s earned — and sometimes lost — votes from Democrats and Republicans alike. 

Affirmative votes in the Senate came from a handful of Democrats, including state Sens. Jay Costa from Pittsburgh and Christine Tartaglione from Philadelphia. Those who opposed the bill included Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican from south central Pennsylvania who made headlines in 2022 with a failed gubernatorial run and his full embrace of various hard-line policies, including a firm pro-fossil fuel stance.

Carbon capture “is, to a degree, cutting across what we would probably classify as traditional ideological divisions,” said Sean O’Leary, senior researcher, energy and petrochemicals, at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

One of carbon capture’s most crucial endorsements in the state came from Gov. Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, ran on an all-of-the-above strategy for tackling the climate crisis. He has now thrown his weight behind the technology as the state has pursued federal funding for hydrogen hubs. Carbon capture was also recently included in two of the governor’s climate proposals.

“Carbon capture is crucial to Pennsylvania’s energy future,” Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder told Capital & Main. “We are glad to see a bipartisan group of senators agree with the governor that we need to invest in carbon capture and sequestration.

“The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with leaders in both parties to ensure bipartisan legislation contains appropriate environmental, public health, and safety protections as it moves through the legislative process,” Bonder added. 

Shapiro’s support for carbon capture could be key to getting SB 831 over the goal line in the Democratically controlled state House, despite warnings from environmentalists. It also has the backing of the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council, which makes campaign contributions to members on both sides of the aisle and which has supported fossil fuel and renewable projects alike.

The bill currently sits in the House Consumer Protection, Technology, and Utilities Committee, where a handful of more straightforward climate bills — including one that would improve school district access to solar energy and another that would legalize community solar projects across the commonwealth — have advanced with unanimous support before winning votes on both sides of the aisle on the full floor.

Capital & Main reached out to Democratic Rep. Rob Matzie, chair of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, for comment on the bill. Matzie did not respond by publication time. In the past, he has championed bills that proved to be a boon for fossil fuels, including one subsidizing a Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC plastics plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. When Shapiro released his carbon capture-infused energy plan, Matzie signaled his support: “These proposals will create good energy jobs, promote opportunities for technologies that will deliver power while reducing their carbon footprint, and — most importantly — maintain our status as a net exporter of energy,” he said in a news release in March.

It’s an open question whether some of the provisions of SB 831 that are stoking environmentalists’ concern will make it through the House. But Democratic Rep. Emily Kinkead has offered an alternative proposal to the bill that incorporates provisions to protect environmental justice communities that have long been scarred with the detritus of the oil and gas industry. It would also offer heightened protections for landowners situated near carbon sequestration projects. Kinkead, from Pittsburgh, circulated a memo describing the bill on March 25 but has yet to introduce formal legislation. 

Kinkead told Capital & Main she’s not certain such legislation will pass, but she hopes it will at least offer a starting point for negotiations to amend SB 831. 

“I think the goal of my bill is, at the very least, to demonstrate that we don’t have to do it exactly the way that it’s outlined,” she said. “We can incorporate some better practices.” 

If SB 831 passes the House without amendments, O’Leary, the Ohio River Valley Institute senior researcher, fears immediate repercussions for residents. At least one company — Omaha, Nebraska-based Tenaska — is already planning carbon dioxide injection in the fracking-heavy southwestern part of Pennsylvania. The company envisions using 80,000 acres stretching across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for up to 20 injection wells that would extend as far as 10,000 feet horizontally underground. This will require a yet unknown number of pipelines. Those who oppose burying carbon under their land, but fall into the 40 percent minority, will be out of luck. 

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Pennsylvania landowners could be forced to accept carbon dioxide burial on their land on Jun 16, 2024.

Read the full story here.
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Carbon Removal Is Catching On, but It Needs to Go Faster

World leaders must make plans to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a new report says

CLIMATEWIRE | The world still isn’t sucking enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to meet the Paris climate targets, scientists said Tuesday. And the gap grows wider every year that humanity delays meaningful cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions.That’s the punchline of a new report on the state of global carbon dioxide removal, the practice of drawing CO2 out of the air to help tackle climate change. It's an update to the report's first edition, which was published in January 2023.Nations worldwide are scrubbing about 2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, mainly by planting trees, the report says. But experts estimate they’ll need to remove at least 7 billion tons annually by midcentury.On supporting science journalismIf you're enjoying this article, consider supporting our award-winning journalism by subscribing. By purchasing a subscription you are helping to ensure the future of impactful stories about the discoveries and ideas shaping our world today.Meanwhile, global emissions must fall rapidly to stay on the Paris track. Humanity spews nearly 40 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year through the burning of fossil fuels.Scientists agree the primary strategy for tackling climate change is through a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly by phasing out fossil fuels and halting deforestation. But they also agree at least some carbon removal is necessary to keep global warming below 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, the major goals of the Paris Agreement.That’s because global emissions must reach net zero within a few decades to meet the Paris timeline, meaning any remaining carbon going into the atmosphere must be counterbalanced by an equal amount coming out.Carbon dioxide removal, or CDR, is the "only way really to provide a balance of net zero if we still have residual emissions in the system,” said Steve Smith, a climate science and policy expert at the University of Oxford and a lead author of the new report, at a press conference Tuesday.The simplest way to hit net zero is to stop pouring carbon dioxide into the air. But some sectors of the economy likely cannot be fully decarbonized within the next few decades, either because the technology doesn’t exist yet or it can’t be scaled up quickly enough.That means some residual emissions will be leftover by midcentury, and world leaders will need to offset them with carbon removal.There are a variety of ways that can be done. Planting forests is the most popular strategy today, accounting for nearly all the carbon removal happening around the world. But researchers are working on a range of novel techniques on the side, from giant carbon-guzzling machines to special minerals that help the land or the ocean absorb more CO2.Global interest and investment in carbon removal has risen in recent years, the report notes.While novel CDR strategies account for less than 0.1 percent of global carbon removal capacity, they’re expanding faster than conventional methods, the new report finds. Grant funding for carbon removal research projects has steadily increased.And there’s been a major jump in demonstration programs for new kinds of carbon removal techniques, particularly in the United States. The country’s first commercial direct air capture plant, built by Heirloom Carbon Technologies, opened in California last November.Yet there’s still room for expansion. After a period of rapid growth in prior decades, new carbon removal patents have slowed since 2010. And while investment in carbon removal startups has generally increased over the past decade, it’s also declined after peaking in 2022.There’s also a dearth of global policies that could incentivize companies to swiftly scale up their carbon removal capacity, the report notes.For now, the voluntary carbon market — which allows companies and other carbon emitters to buy and sell carbon credits — is a small but growing source of demand for carbon removal projects.Yet the market has attracted widespread criticism from experts who point out that carbon offsets are often less effective at reducing or removing emissions than the public is led to believe. And as of 2023, carbon removal credits accounted for less than 10 percent of the total credits sold on the voluntary carbon market.That means there’s still a need for governments to implement policies that will spur more carbon removal innovation and expansion, the report suggests.“We don’t see that policy signal yet,” said Greg Nemet, an environmental policy expert at the University of Wisconsin and another lead report author. “And we think that’s a really important lacking area that needs to be changed from a policy perspective.”Mind the gapMeanwhile, the report notes, countries must flesh out their long-term plans around emissions reductions and carbon removal. Recent studies have warned that most nations have not yet assembled comprehensive strategies for how they will achieve net zero in the coming decades.Based on the long-term carbon removal plans that national governments have proposed, the new report estimates there’s still a significant gap between the amount of CDR expected by the year 2050 and the amount the world needs to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees.The size of the gap depends strongly on the strategies that world leaders use to reduce emissions and draw down carbon in the coming decades. The most sustainable pathways to meeting the Paris target generally suggest the world will need between 7 billion and 9 billion metric tons of carbon removal by the year 2050.But it could be done with less. One of the most ambitious future scenarios that experts have modeled suggests the world could achieve 1.5C with only about 4.8 billion metric tons of annual carbon removal by the year 2050.Based on countries’ current pledges, world leaders might get close. One of the best-case scenarios estimates the planet could be on track for about 4.4 billion tons of carbon removal by midcentury. That’s still a gap, but a relatively small one.But that scenario comes with an important caveat. The analysis assumes that global greenhouse emissions are swiftly falling. They haven’t — in fact, they’re still rising.That means the carbon removal gap likely is larger than the report suggests.Even as experts say that global carbon removal is falling short, some scientists are worried more investment could backfire. They argue that a focus on carbon removal could detract from global efforts to reduce emissions — potentially lulling world leaders into the belief they can clean up their excess emissions with technology in the future.But proponents of increased carbon removal say the practice is essential to achieving the Paris targets — and that world leaders should strive to reduce global emissions as quickly as possible.“Meeting the Paris Agreement’s long-term temperature goals requires rapid greenhouse gas emissions reduction and near-term scale up of CDR,” said Smith, the University of Oxford scientist. “It’s not really an either-or situation.”Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2024. E&E News provides essential news for energy and environment professionals.

In Pennsylvania, Landowners Could Be Forced To Let Carbon Dioxide Be Buried Under Their Property

The governor and politicians on both sides of the aisle support carbon capture bill, but environmentalists fear leaks, explosions, earthquakes and more. The post In Pennsylvania, Landowners Could Be Forced To Let Carbon Dioxide Be Buried Under Their Property appeared first on .

Amid a divided state Legislature, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans are finding rare common ground in a bill designed to usher in a new industry for capturing climate-altering carbon dioxide and burying it underground. Among other provisions, Senate Bill 831 would create an enforcement structure for carbon capture within the state, set a low bar for gaining consent from landowners near sites where carbon is injected into the ground and, in some cases, spare the fossil fuel industry from seismic monitoring — that is, watching for earthquakes, a known risk. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican representing north central Pennsylvania who has personal ties to the fossil fuel industry, cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 30-20 vote in April. It now moves to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats. But a coalition of environmental groups said the bill is riddled with problems. Landowners could be left in the dark when the collected carbon is pumped into the ground near their properties, they said. Additionally, carbon dioxide could eventually leak into the atmosphere, posing a risk to both the environment and public health: In Satartia, Mississippi, a pipeline carrying carbon dioxide ruptured, sending 49 people to the hospital complaining of labored breathing, stomach disorders and mental confusion.  “Our concerns with this were pretty significant,” said Jen Quinn, legislative and political director at the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club. In introducing the legislation, Yaw pitched the bill as a proposal to direct state regulators to take over responsibility for the permitting process for carbon dioxide injection wells from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  In reality, the bill, as written, would go much further than that. It would allow operators to inject carbon dioxide into underground geologic formations with permission from just 60% of the nearby landowners. It would allow operators to apply for a waiver ceding liability for these wells to the state after 10 years of a well’s completion. And it would allow operators to forgo seismic monitoring of the storage fields into which the carbon dioxide pumped into the earth, if they can prove that the field does not “pose significant risk.”  Several of these provisions, Quinn said, are “setting the bar very low.”  A report by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank, showed that no state sets the landowner consent bar at less than 60%.  The report also argued that waiving operators’ liability over their carbon storage fields will lead to negligence: Operators that know they won’t be held responsible for any mess in the long run won’t be incentivized to run a clean operation, the report said.  Capital & Main reached out to Sen. Yaw, author of SB 831, and did not hear back by publication time. However, he said in a press release that the bill is a “proactive step” to building out the state’s carbon capture industry.  Environmentalists have long splintered over carbon capture and sequestration, known as CCS. The practice of collecting carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground has been criticized as costly, dangerous and largely unproven. While some say it is a useful tool among many for addressing the climate crisis, others call CCS a boondoggle that could offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry, which has rallied around the technology. Environmentalists worry that in Pennsylvania, which has centuries of oil and gas drilling under its belt, the state’s geology could prove treacherous. “This idea that they’re going to go all in on carbon capture and try to inject this stuff in the same places where it’s like Swiss cheese … is just plain stupid,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of the grassroots Better Path Coalition, a staunch opponent of burying carbon in the earth. The state is dotted with orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, including many that likely have yet to be located. The wells create pathways underground through which gases can travel and potentially seep into waterways or leak into the atmosphere, undoing the progress of capturing the carbon in the first place. A 2009 report by the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said that the state’s legacy oil and gas fields could “constitute a leakage pathway for reservoir gases, including injected CO2.” “The safest course of action would be to avoid the oldest of these oil fields,” the report added.  Feridun said she also anticipates that an influx of carbon dioxide injection wells will come with a maze of pipelines to transport the carbon. Because the bill would permit operators to get consent from only 60% of property owners atop an injection site, some landowners would be left without a voice in the process, the southwestern Pennsylvania-based Center for Coalfield Justice warned in an online petition opposing the bill. The petition urges signatories to send a message to their representatives with language such as: “If 40% of people within a carbon storage field don’t want carbon injected beneath their feet — the project can move forward anyway.”  Ethan Story, advocacy director at the Center for Coalfield Justice, believes few Pennsylvanians are aware of the bill and what it could mean to them. “Landowners, in addition to elected officials in some communities, are very unaware and uneducated on this proposal,” he said. “The immediate reaction from a majority of the community members that we have talked to and presented this information to has been met with great pause.”  SB 831 has been met with a different reaction in the state Legislature, where it’s earned — and sometimes lost — votes from Democrats and Republicans alike.  Affirmative votes in the Senate came from a handful of Democrats, including state Sens. Jay Costa from Pittsburgh and Christine Tartaglione from Philadelphia. Those who opposed the bill included Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican from south central Pennsylvania who made headlines in 2022 with a failed gubernatorial run and his full embrace of various hard-line policies, including a firm pro-fossil fuel stance. Carbon capture “is, to a degree, cutting across what we would probably classify as traditional ideological divisions,” said Sean O’Leary, senior researcher, energy and petrochemicals, at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank. One of carbon capture’s most crucial endorsements in the state came from Gov. Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, ran on an all-of-the-above strategy for tackling the climate crisis. He has now thrown his weight behind the technology as the state has pursued federal funding for hydrogen hubs. Carbon capture was also recently included in two of the governor’s climate proposals. “Carbon capture is crucial to Pennsylvania’s energy future,” Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder told Capital & Main. “We are glad to see a bipartisan group of senators agree with the governor that we need to invest in carbon capture and sequestration. “The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with leaders in both parties to ensure bipartisan legislation contains appropriate environmental, public health, and safety protections as it moves through the legislative process,” Bonder added.  Shapiro’s support for carbon capture could be key to getting SB 831 over the goal line in the Democratically controlled state House, despite warnings from environmentalists. It also has the backing of the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council, which makes campaign contributions to members on both sides of the aisle and which has supported fossil fuel and renewable projects alike. The bill currently sits in the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, where a handful of more straightforward climate bills — including one that would improve school district access to solar energy and another that would legalize community solar projects across the commonwealth — have advanced with unanimous support before winning votes on both sides of the aisle on the full floor. Capital & Main reached out to Democratic Rep. Rob Matzie, chair of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, for comment on the bill. Matzie did not respond by publication time. In the past, he has championed bills that proved to be a boon for fossil fuels, including one subsidizing a Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC plastics plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. When Shapiro released his carbon capture-infused energy plan, Matzie signaled his support: “These proposals will create good energy jobs, promote opportunities for technologies that will deliver power while reducing their carbon footprint, and — most importantly — maintain our status as a net exporter of energy,” he said in a news release in March. It’s an open question whether some of the provisions of SB 831 that are stoking environmentalists’ concern will make it through the House. But Democratic Rep. Emily Kinkead has offered an alternative proposal to the bill that incorporates provisions to protect environmental justice communities that have long been scarred with the detritus of the oil and gas industry. It would also offer heightened protections for landowners situated near carbon sequestration projects. Kinkead, from Pittsburgh, circulated a memo describing the bill on March 25 but has yet to introduce formal legislation.  Kinkead told Capital & Main she’s not certain such legislation will pass, but she hopes it will at least offer a starting point for negotiations to amend SB 831.  “I think the goal of my bill is, at the very least, to demonstrate that we don’t have to do it exactly the way that it’s outlined,” she said. “We can incorporate some better practices.”  If SB 831 passes the House without amendments, O’Leary, the Ohio River Valley Institute senior researcher, fears immediate repercussions for residents. At least one company — Omaha, Nebraska-based Tenaska — is already planning carbon dioxide injection in the fracking-heavy southwestern part of Pennsylvania. The company envisions using 80,000 acres stretching across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for up to 20 injection wells that would extend as far as 10,000 feet horizontally underground. This will require a yet unknown number of pipelines. Those who oppose burying carbon under their land, but fall into the 40% minority, will be out of luck.    Copyright Capital & Main 2024

In Rural Pennsylvania, Crypto Mining Offers a Lifeline for Dying Gas Wells

Emails show Diversified largely kept the state in the dark as it fired up its bitcoin mining operation. The post In Rural Pennsylvania, Crypto Mining Offers a Lifeline for Dying Gas Wells appeared first on .

Holly May first heard the roaring noise during a youth hunting event on state game lands in the fall of 2022.  “It’s back a ways,” May said of the noise. “It was an area that I previously had liked to hunt in.” The plot of land, State Game Lands 44 in Pennsylvania’s northwest, was once home to a coal mine — since revegetated with native and pollinator-friendly plants and stocked with pheasants by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Today, traces of its mining past are covered by tall, waving grasses and clusters of goldenrod flowers. Getting to the site requires maneuvering up a treacherous gravel hill road and past a gate with a sign identifying the lessee of its mineral rights: Diversified Production LLC. Where the trees clear, grassland opens up, offering cover to the critters that May and others both hunt and protect. But that fall day, finding pheasants was harder than usual. “It literally sound[ed] like you’re standing beside an airplane taking off,” she said. May, a natural resources professional, wouldn’t find out until months later that the sound was coming from a different kind of mining operation than this land has grown accustomed to — one that searches for bitcoin.  The bitcoin mine sits atop a set of wells producing natural gas that — rather than being transported and sold — can be used to power banks of supercomputers that work around the clock to unlock cryptocurrency, a lucrative process. Today, one bitcoin is worth around $67,000. Diversified Production’s crypto mining operation at Longhorn Pad A in Elk County, PA. When May heard it roaring that day, the mine was up and running but without authorization from state regulators. The oil and gas producer Diversified had yet to secure the required permits to hook up the engines that power cryptocurrency mining on the low-producing fracking well pad, called Longhorn Pad A. Nonetheless, it ran for several weeks, one resident estimated.  Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) later slapped the company with a notice of violation for breaking state air pollution and noise laws.  Then, without handing down any punishment, the regulators approved the mining operation in December. The mine was the second Diversified site to be hit with a violation for operating without a permit. The agency did so as well at a neighboring site, Longhorn Pad C, which regulators discovered in March 2023. It also received the necessary permits for bitcoin mining two months later. Diversified, which has acquired some 70,000 wells in less than a decade, has surpassed Exxon Mobil Corp. to become the largest well owner in the nation. Many of these wells are low-producing and represent a risk if the company can’t afford to plug them at the end of their lives. The situation adds to the growing concern about a potential surge in bitcoin mining — and its potential to increase air pollution — throughout Pennsylvania. Across the country, crypto mining is blamed for producing millions of tons of carbon dioxide and consuming vast amounts of electricity — more than some entire countries. “We have invested tens of thousands of dollars in habitat work on that game lands,” May said. “Now, it’s really disturbing to use that whole back section … not to mention the greenhouse gas emissions.”  In issuing permits for the site, the DEP opted not to put a cap on its greenhouse gas emissions, noting that the site is not a “major” source of emissions relative to other polluters in the state, such as power plants. But the department did place a noise limit on the mine, even though Horton Township, where the mine is located, had already adopted a bitcoin mining ordinance that limited noise. PJ Piccirillo, a supervisor in Horton Township, said he was never contacted by Diversified Energy about the site throughout the entire permitting process. The agency also forgave the company’s infractions in granting the permit, saying that Diversified had “satisfactorily addressed violations.” In an email to Capital & Main, the DEP said Diversified has not yet started full-time operation of the bitcoin mine at Longhorn A because it has yet to install the “sound mitigation devices” its permit requires. The bitcoin operations point to a gap in regulatory oversight that has allowed operators such as Diversified to start their mining operations without being fully transparent about their full plans or communicating with local communities about the potential impact of their operations, interviews and government emails obtained through Right-to-Know requests show. Regulators often lack the bandwidth to properly monitor all infractions, especially in rural areas, and oversight can be fractured — in the case of Longhorn Pad A, requiring input from three different agencies that don’t often communicate with one another. “The permit applicant here has a bad track record in Pennsylvania,” said Robert Routh, Pennsylvania’s senior policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which filed a complaint opposing the mine last July alongside Earthjustice and the Clean Air Council.  “It appears they lack both the intent or the ability to comply with Pennsylvania law.” From Bituminous to Bitcoin In a process known as “wellhead mining,” Diversified’s Longhorn Pad A funnels natural gas from two fracking wells directly into engines that power banks of supercomputers. Disconnected from the grid, the mine can churn away on its own around the clock. Diversified hadn’t owned the pad for very long before it took steps to turn it into a bitcoin mine. The company acquired the wells in November 2020 and formally applied to mine bitcoin there in June 2022. It powered up the mines the following October and operated for several weeks, according to resident complaints and emails reviewed by Capital & Main.  As the DEP’s permitting process was underway, staff at the Pennsylvania Game Commission expressed frustration that Diversified was not fully answering inquiries about their activities at the well site. Though the company’s permit applications on Longhorn Pads A and C clearly expressed its intent to mine bitcoin, early emails obtained by Capital & Main show company representatives were vague in communicating their plans to both agencies, referring to the mine as “containers” housing “computer equipment.” After finally meeting with the Game Commission, a Diversified executive offered to “partner” on projects for the agency, such as tree planting efforts and winter coat drives.  Both well pads house marginal, or low-producing, wells, which Diversified acquired from Pittsburgh-based fracking giant EQT in 2020. The wells had been inactive for around a decade before Diversified brought them back to life.  A highly energy-intensive process, bitcoin mining runs the risk of producing a surge in the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Using what’s called the proof-of-work algorithm, bitcoin miners mint new coins by chipping away at complex mathematical equations. A September 2022 report from the Biden administration estimates that crypto operations are now responsible for 0.4% to 0.8% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Bitcoin mining also generates localized air and water pollution as well as electronic waste, the report notes. Cooling the computers, which must remain at a set temperature, also requires vast water usage, which could strain drought-prone areas. Emissions projections for Longhorn Pad A from Diversified’s permit application. In its application for permits to add crypto-related generators to Longhorn A, Diversified predicted the site’s emissions of air pollutants, such as particulate matter and volatile organic compounds, would multiply by as much as 67 times once it began mining bitcoin.  Wells such as Longhorn A — which for most operators would be economically worthless since they lack pipeline capacity to transmit any gas they produce — are a model for giving new life to aging wells. Bitcoin mining offers them a new revenue stream and, as one bitcoin mine operator wrote in a 2023 blog post, going off-grid comes with a suite of “superpowers,” including the ability to relocate quickly and to “operate permissionlessly.”  The specter of a bitcoin gold rush in Pennsylvania seems to have caught regulators by surprise, interviews and documents obtained via Right-to-Know requests show. Thousands of low-producing wells are estimated to be scattered across the commonwealth, and environmentalists fear they could become targets for an emerging, hard-to-control industry.  ‘Big Picture, We Don’t Ever Want to See Another One of These’ In Horton Township, Piccirillo said he first heard complaints from residents in the fall of 2022. At first he couldn’t explain the noise or the sudden increase in truck traffic on the road leading to the well. That is, until he and his fellow supervisors went to the site to see for themselves. The bitcoin mine was up and running on his first visit, shut off on his second, he said.  Minutes from Horton Township Board of Supervisors meetings show the mine came up repeatedly between August and October of 2022. Around a year later, the township passed an ordinance requiring that, before operating, bitcoin mines be housed in a “fully enclosed” building that would keep noise emissions below 50 decibels (roughly the noise level of a refrigerator) from the closest property line; and receive approval through a local permitting process. After visiting the site this past March, Piccirillo said the company still had not enclosed the mine in a soundproof building. The road in Weedville, PA, just a few miles from Longhorn Pad C. Around the same time that Piccirillo began fielding resident complaints, Dave Gustafson, director for the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, started looking for answers as well. At first, none came. “We went back and forth, and over the next several months throughout the summer [of 2022], tried to reach out and find out, ‘Well, what are they exactly doing?’” he said. “They really didn’t tell us.” Gustafson recalled that early correspondence from company representatives was vague. “They were very careful to say that what they were doing had to do with production and post-production of gas,” he said. “That’s careful language.”  The company took a similar tack in corresponding with the DEP. In April 2023, after the DEP hit Diversified with a violation for firing up its bitcoin mine on Longhorn C without permission, a company vice president pushed back. “We do not agree with this determination,” the executive wrote in an email, arguing that the engines at the site actually “provide power for oil and gas operations.” (The engines Diversified were cited for using are the same models the company noted in its permit application would be “associated with mining of crypto currency operations.”)  Meanwhile, emails show Diversified was slow to reply to agency queries, sometimes delaying answers to questions and plans to meet by weeks. An internal Game Commission memo noted that Gustafson emailed Diversified “requesting details of what was being developed on the Longhorn A pad” on Sept. 1, 2022. More than four months later, the memo said, “We had still not received a written response and only managed to get 1 phone conversation.”  Diversified’s notice of violation from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. As the bitcoin mines began operating, the Game Commission fielded its first complaints. The situation presented a quandary for the state’s regulatory bodies, which appeared not to have communicated with each other about their shared experience with Diversified until July of 2023, records show. When a third agency — the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources — weighed in, another point of view emerged. “Our position is that [bitcoin mining] is certainly not permissible under our lease,” the department wrote in emails obtained by Capital & Main. It took months for Gustafson to get the chance to arrange a visit to Longhorn A with Diversified representatives, because the company didn’t offer “a lot of good-natured or good partnerly communication,” he recalled last October. “We disagree, still to this day, about certain rights that they assert that they have, that we don’t believe that they have.”  “Big picture,” he continued, “we don’t ever want to see another one of these. We don’t even want this one there.”  Gustafson concedes that since getting in touch with Diversified’s staff, the company has agreed to several key compromises — including shutting down the bitcoin mine on peak hunting days. Emails also show that, after meeting with Gustafson, in the wake of months of delay, Diversified Chief Financial Officer Brad Gray offered to “partner with your organization to get some great projects completed,” highlighting that the company had previously sponsored tree-planting initiatives, fishing explorations, playground construction projects and winter coat drives for other entities.  The violations at the two Longhorn pads tops a list of 19 others the company admitted to in its permit applications for the Longhorn sites. Those violations should have been enough to derail Diversified’s application to mine bitcoin, Routh, the NRDC policy advocate, and the nonprofit environmental groups Clean Air Council and Earthjustice said in a public comment filed in opposition to the mine. In response, the DEP said that “Diversified had worked with DEP to satisfactorily address violations occurring at other facilities the company operates.” They did not specify what steps the company had taken.  “The department offers a get-out-of-jail free card to Diversified and to any other polluters who don’t bother to apply for a permit,” Charley McPhedran, senior attorney in Earthjustice’s clean energy program, told Capital & Main. “The incentive for industry is to do whatever it wants.”  Capital & Main reached out to Diversified Energy PLC, the parent company to Diversified Production, with a list of questions. While it did not respond to specific questions, it offered a statement in response.  Fog hangs on the hillsides above the road to Longhorn Pad C. “As part of our well optimization efforts, we undertook a pilot research program to study on-site cryptocurrency mining activities as a solution for stranded assets. Throughout the process, we have sought guidance and worked closely with the Department of Environmental Protection and Game Commission,” the statement reads. “Across our operations, we strive to be good stewards of our assets, focused on innovative solutions to best use resources while minimizing environmental impact and improving performance.”  The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to a list of questions from Capital & Main.  For May, the hunter who has now stopped frequenting State Game Lands 44 in favor of quieter grounds, this type of operation has real-life consequences.  “​​It’s super frustrating to watch a private company come in and be a repeat offender,” said May.  Copyright Capital & Main

Electricity From Coal Is Pricey. Should Consumers Have to Pay?

Environmental groups are making a new economic argument against coal, the heaviest polluting fossil fuel. Some regulators are listening.

For decades, environmentalists fought power plants that burn coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, by highlighting their pollution: soot, mercury and the carbon dioxide that is dangerously heating the planet.But increasingly, opponents have been making an economic argument, telling regulators that electricity produced by coal is more expensive for consumers than power generated by solar, wind and other renewable sources.And that’s been a winning strategy recently in two states where regulators forbade utilities from recouping their losses from coal-fired plants by passing those costs to ratepayers. The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, two leading environmental groups, are hoping that if utilities are forced to absorb all the costs of burning coal, it would speed the closures of uneconomical plants.The groups are focused on utilities that generate electricity from coal and also distribute it. Those utilities have historically been allowed to pass their operating losses to customers, leaving them with costly electric bills while the plants emitted carbon dioxide that could have been avoided with a different fuel source, according to the environmental groups.About 75 percent of the nation’s roughly 200 coal-fired power plants are owned by utilities that control both generation and distribution.In 2023, utilities across the United States incurred about $3 billion in losses by running coal-fired power plants when it was cheaper to buy power from lower-cost, less polluting sources, according to RMI, a nonprofit research organization focused on clean energy. About 96 percent of those losses were incurred by plants that controlled both power generation and distribution, the organization said.Subscribe to The Times to read as many articles as you like.

Ships could store their CO2 emissions in the ocean

Researchers have designed a new system to capture carbon dioxide from shipping exhaust after studying how limestone naturally dissolves in the ocean

A start-up is testing a new system to capture carbon dioxide from shipping exhaust and discharge it into the oceanCalcarea Ships could capture their own carbon dioxide emissions by bubbling exhaust through seawater and limestone, then pouring the water back into the ocean. This could save space and energy compared with other systems, but it is unclear what the environmental impacts might be. The system takes advantage of a natural reaction between CO2 and calcium carbonate, also known as limestone. “The ocean has been running exactly this reaction for billions of years,” says Jess Adkins at Calcarea, the start-up behind the technique. When seawater absorbs CO2, it becomes acidic enough to break down limestone. The dissolved rock then reacts with CO2 in the water to form bicarbonate minerals, which can remain stable in the ocean for millennia. This is one of the primary ways the planet removes CO2 from the atmosphere over long timescales. For decades, Adkins and his colleagues studied how this dynamic affects organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium, like corals, as the oceans become more acidic due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2. They realised that speeding up the rate at which limestone dissolved would transform more CO2 into stable bicarbonate – and one way to do this was to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide exposed to limestone. “You can make [the reaction] go an order of magnitude faster if you use pure CO2,” says Adkins. The researchers have now designed a way to use this process to capture carbon from ships, which are responsible for about 3 per cent of all human-caused CO2 emissions and have limited options to reduce their footprint. Adkins says tests in California demonstrated that two prototypes can convert at least 30 per cent of the CO2 in diesel engine exhaust into bicarbonate. They are now working with the research arm of Lomar Shipping, a global shipping company, to test the system on a ship. The on-board test would involve compressing exhaust, then bubbling it through large volumes of seawater, using the movement of the ship as a water pump to save on energy. The more acidic water would then flow over crushed limestone to form bicarbonate, before being discharged back into the ocean. Adkins says this technique doesn’t use up as much space and is more flexible than other approaches, which require storing captured emissions on board and offloading them at specialised ports. Still, he estimates the Calcarea system would take up about 4 per cent of the space on a large bulk carrier ship sailing on a long voyage. Phil Renforth at Heriot-Watt University in the UK says the idea is interesting but could face a few problems. For one, he says the approach is unlikely to ever capture all the CO2 from the exhaust without impractically large reactors. As more options for low-emissions shipping fuels become available, that may prove to be a better option than capturing emissions. “We also need to know a lot about the consequences of scaling this up,” he says. Discharging bicarbonates into the ocean wouldn’t be a concern because they are abundant in seawater, but he says other compounds in the exhaust could have negative effects on ecosystems. Many ships already use systems that discharge sulphur pollution from exhaust into the ocean. But the agencies that regulate global shipping and international waters remain divided on how to address schemes to store CO2 in the sea.

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