Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Is Harper On To Something or Just On Something?

Stephen Harper has unveiled the cornerstone of the Tories' environmental programme - a "clean coal" power plant in development in Saskatchewan.

The idea behind clean coal is to capture the CO2 emissions and sequester the carbon somewhere that it can't escape into the atmosphere. That goal presents a host of technological challenges, all of which have to be met if it is to be worth the expense and effort.

The way the Saskatchewan project is being hyped you would think that Canada scored some enormous breakthrough, something the rest of the world has been able to only dream of. Now you wouldn't know it to listen to Harpo but the Saskatchewan project. to which he's now conveniently lashed himself, was announced in 2002 and it was in 2002 that Saskatchewan announced its plans for a demonstration clean coal electricity plant in 2007.

Carbon capture technology has come a long way since 2002 but the problem then, as now, remains in sequestration. Capturing the CO2 is only good if you can find a way to store it - safely and permanently.

The popular concept of sequestration is to pump the gas under high pressure into existing oil wells where it will actually help in the extraction of remaining oil reserves. It sounds good, in theory, but there can be problems. For starters, the gas sits there waiting to escape. It just sits there, at high pressure, waiting and waiting and waiting for something, such as a fissure to develop. If one of these reservoirs is breached you don't want to be living anywhere near it, at least if you want to go on living.

What's troubling is that the most technologically challenging part - sequestration - is the part that's almost never mentioned. Instead our attention is diverted to the shiny bits - carbon capture.

But, for Harpo, it's all sleight of hand. It's a promise he won't be around to keep anyway and it's something he can use to conceal his deliberate failure to take any meaningful action to curb GHG emissions.


Sean S. said...

don't forget the unknown effect on groundwater chemistry, rock stability, and all the other fun geochemical questions that are yet to be studied.

Also, it should be pointed out that CO2 sequestration doesn't address the need to reduce CO2, it (in theory) just allows us to bury our problem. This is something that didn't ultimately work for our garbage, and it takes governments, business and citizens off the hook instead of making them address the real problem.

The Mound of Sound said...

I with you on those points Sean. We have a funny attitude to things underground. Look at how we've squandered freshwater aquifers, treating them as limitless sources for irrigation or even building golf courses and artificial lakes in the middle of deserts. Kind of makes you wonder, eh?

Anonymous said...

The Chinese are already working on clean coal so why can't we.

The Mound of Sound said...

"Working on" clean coal is just dandy but, until the technology is developed to the level where it, along with carbon sequestration, are genuinely viable we can't let this weasel get away with using the promise of something so far from proven as a smokescreen for real action on curbing carbon emissions. Operative word - Weasel.