Greenwire, October 11, 2007


By Darren Samuelsohn, E&ENews PM senior reporter

U.S. EPA committed today to writing rules defining how fossil-fuel industries should safely inject heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions underneath the Earth's surface.

The agency said it would offer regulations for public comment by next summer under the Safe Drinking Water Act that "ensure there is a consistent and effective permit system" for commercial-scale carbon capture and storage.

"Addressing global climate change will require fundamental changes in the way the world generates and uses energy," EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said in a press release. "By harnessing the power of geologic sequestration technology, we are entering a new age of clean energy where we can be both good stewards of the Earth, and good stewards of the American economy."

Carbon injection technology has been in use for more than 30 years as a means to pump oil and natural gas from seemingly depleted wells. Only in recent years has it gained traction as a way to reduce the amount of CO2 that power plants and other big industries release into the atmosphere.

Industry and government experts say carbon injection technology also remains more than a decade away from wide-scale commercial deployment and will require the completion of several federally funded tests around the country.

That time lag, coupled with the lack of state and federal regulations, has left some investors nervous about backing new power plant projects that would employ the types of technologies most easily capable of capturing CO2 emissions and storing them underground.

Anxious to see more carbon-friendly industry proposals, some Democrats on Capitol Hill and environmental groups have urged EPA to begin the rulewriting process for CO2 injection.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) earlier this year suggested Congress may order EPA to issue regulations on a deadline. And Sen. Tom Carper (D- Del.) urged Johnson to start writing the rules under authority his agency won from the Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA.

EPA guidance

EPA to date had dealt with CO2 injection with a guidance document that outlined how it will allow for experimental testing which allows for fluid injection so long as it does not harm current or future underground sources of drinking water. EPA's new rules are expected to go much further, though the agency has offered no specific details.

In a statement, Carper said he welcomed Johnson's decision to issue the rules. "With health and safety standards in place, the promise of clean-coal technology will become closer to a reality," Carper said.

And David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center, said he would be on the lookout for an EPA regulation that outlines specific performance criteria for CO2 injection, as well as details on operation practices and monitoring and verification requirements.

"I think there's a significant chunk of industry that is depending on EPA writing rules, which the public regards as sound and provides confidence both to the public and local officials that this is an activity that can be carried out with very very small risks," Hawkins said.

At the Edison Electric Institute, deputy general counsel Bill Fang urged EPA to wait for the "practical experience and results" that come from federally funded demonstration projects.

"We understand the need for regulatory certainty to facilitate investment in carbon capture and storage projects, but urge EPA to keep in mind the issues and concerns of several key stakeholders, namely, utilities and others engaged in CCS projects, DOE and the states," Fang said.

While EPA did not say when it would issue a final rule, the agency's typical 18-month review period would mean the issue falls to the next administration.

Copyright 1996-2007 E&E Publishing, LLC