Environment Minister John Baird's announcement that carbon sequestration will be mandatory, while applauded, requires further examination.
Carbon sequestration does provide a short-term solution to reduce carbon emissions, however it does not provide a long-term solution because ultimately we will run out of petroleum, fossil fuel derived methane, and coal (at least if we continue consume these resources as we presently do).
A long-term solution recognizes these limits; a truly long term solution would be to create a world free from fossil fuel dependence.
Now, I certainly understand how unlikely it is that humanity will quit using fossil-fuels tomorrow. Nonetheless, this is the aim that we MUST keep in sight!
The sequestration of carbon, is a relatively new and untested technology that literally entails pumping vast amounts of liquified C0² underground in depleted or near-depleted oil and gas fields, underground saline aquifers (salty water/rock layers), or abandoned coal mines. It remains unclear however if the stored C0² will leak back into the atmosphere, or acidify aquifers. Storing vast quantities of C0² underground literally creates a ticking time bomb.
In 1986 volcanic activity caused approximately 1 km³of naturally-trapped carbon dioxide to bubble up from under Lake Nyos, Cameroon, causing the suffocation of 1700 people and 3500 livestock in the surrounding areas. Even proponents of carbon capture recognize that, “[a] similar event from a breached C0² storage is the worst-case scenario for CCS-technology.” (Höök, 10). Does it not seem conceivable that an earthquake near a C0² storage site could cause a similar disaster?
C0² leakage from storage sites would of course also further contribute to climate change. According to Peter Montague, Executive Director of the Environmental Research Foundation, 'if 25% of the worlds remaining carbon (petroleum, natural gas, coal, and peat) was sequestered, any leakage above 0.16% could eventually result in runaway global warming; and if 75% of carbon was sequestered this percentage drops to 0.05%.' As Mr. Montague questions “Can humans bury several trillion tons of carbon dioxide in the ground with complete confidence that 0.05% of it will not leak out each year? ...the danger would lie buried forever, waiting to escape, a perpetual threat.”
Following the announcement, most oil and coal industry experts in the media were surprisingly accepting of the new regulation. (Perhaps $108 per barrel oil has spurred the optimistic mood.) The lurking question seemed to be: “Who would pay for the increased costs of production?...Oil producers? Consumers? Government?” My intuition tells me that the government will end up paying, at least a portion of the cost. Will a further subsidization of the oil industry helps us to create a fossil fuel independence?
At the end of the day, carbon sequestration is quite literally an attempt to sweep everything under the rug. It is an attempt to bury our C0² emissions under the ground, rather than reducing them. The Conservatives likewise are sweeping the politically hostile question of gthe tar sands developmenth under the rug. Mandatory carbon sequestration legitimizes the tar sands and coal-burning because it provides a neat and tidy solution to the emissions created by the activities (at least so long as nothing goes wrong).
The tar sands however come with their own set of risks. Firstly the “development of the tar sands” is resulting in the clearing of vast tracks of forest. Trees provide an efficient and natural means of carbon sequestration, by clearing vast tracks of forest we are essentially reducing the carbon sequestering capacity of the planet. Furthermore as noted in a recent report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resoures (chaired by Conservative MP Lee Richardson, 42), “...two to four and a half barrels of water are nevertheless required, even with water recycling, to produce one barrel of synthetic crude.” The claims of the oil industry that this land and water can be “reclaimed” is dubious. I ask of the readership: What is more important to sustaining life on the planet: oil or fresh water?
Now to reiterate, I recognize that the sequestration of carbon does provide some potential to reduce carbon emissions in the immediate future; however I hope that this does not distract society from the longer term goal of weaning ourselves off of fossil-fuels.
Solar, wind, bio-gas generation, wave power generation, small-scale hydro: there are numerous ways of generating energy. I suppose a good analogy would be alcoholics who convince themselves that they need just one more drink, when ultimately they need to quit drinking, period! I can only hope that we have the wisdom to check into a good program to free ourselves from fossil fuels.
1. Mikael Höök (2007). "Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)" UHDSG
2. Peter Montague (2007). “Carbon Sequestration and the precautionary principle”
3. Parliamentary Standing Committee on Natural Resources (2007). “The Oil Sands: Towards Sustainable Development” Government of Canada.