Carbon Dioxide Storage for Oil and Gas, As Renewables Hit Obstacle Wall

natural gas nowTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

Carbon dioxide storage is a lot closer than fractivists suppose and it will destroy any advantages claimed by renewables as that sector faces big problems.

One of our alert readers who spends a lot of time studying these issues sent me three articles that, read together, tell us why natural gas is the future. One is about the incredible progress being made in carbon dioxide storage. This will have immense impacts in multiplying the positive effects on emissions from shifting to natural gas. The other two, by contrast, show how difficult it is to implement shifts to renewables on any large scale and how negatively impactful they are on the environment. Taken as a whole, these articles demonstrate natural gas remains three steps ahead of the opposition.

The first piece comes from Science Daily and here are the key parts (emphasis added):

New research at The University of Texas at Austin shows that injecting air and carbon dioxide into methane ice deposits buried beneath the Gulf of Mexico could unlock vast natural gas energy resources while helping fight climate change by trapping the carbon dioxide underground.

The study, published June 27 in the journal Water Resources Research, used computer models to simulate what happens when mixtures of carbon dioxide and air are injected into deposits of methane hydrate, an ice-like, water-rich chemical compound that forms naturally in high-pressure, low-temperature environments, such as deep in the Gulf of Mexico and under Arctic permafrost.

Lead author Kris Darnell, a recent doctoral graduate from the UT Jackson School of Geosciences, said the research is the next step in solving two significant global challenges: energy security and carbon storage.

“Our study shows that you can store carbon dioxide in hydrates and produce energy at the same time,” said Darnell, whose research was funded by the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG).

Carbon Dioxide Storage

NOAA photo of gas hydrate (white, ice-like material) under authigenic carbonate rock that is encrusted with deep-sea chemosynthetic mussels and other organisms on the seafloor of the northern Gulf of Mexico at 966 m (~3170 ft) water depth.

In the process, the nitrogen in the injected air sweeps the methane toward a production well and allows carbon dioxide to take its place, researchers said. The beauty of this approach is that it extracts natural gas from methane hydrate deposits and at the same time stores carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, in a deep environment where it is unlikely to be released into the atmosphere where it could contribute to climate change

The next step, said Darnell, is to test their findings in a lab. The Jackson School and the UT Hildebrand Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering are currently testing the method in a specialized facility in the Jackson School, which is one of the few in the world that can store and test methane hydrate. This work is being led by Peter Flemings, a Jackson School professor and senior UTIG research scientist, and David DiCarlo, a professor in the Hildebrand Department. Both are co-authors on the paper.

“Two things are really cool. First, we can produce natural gas to generate energy and sequester CO2,” said Flemings. “Second, by swapping the methane hydrate with CO2 hydrate, we disturb the (geologic) formation less, lowering the environmental impact, and we make the process energetically more efficient.”

If the process can be shown to work in the field on an industrial scale, it has enormous potential.

Methane hydrate is one of a group of chemical compounds known as gas hydrates in which gas molecules become trapped inside cages of water ice molecules rather than chemically bonding with them. UT and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are working together to study naturally forming methane hydrates with the aim of figuring out their potential as an energy resource. This is important because estimates suggest that methane harvested from hydrate deposits found beneath the Gulf of Mexico alone could power the country for hundreds of years.

Other carbon dioxide storage and reuse options are also be pursued, of course, demonstrating, yet again, just how much more advanced the technology on our side is compared to the attempts of renewables advocates to repackage old technology that fails to deliver on any industrial scale without massive subsidies and the policy-makers wearing ideological blinders.

Meanwhile, an article in the Pacific Standard illustrates one of the obvious problems with renewables that few on their side wants to acknowledge, but an Earthworks sponsored study uncovered:

The transition toward a renewable energy and transport system requires a complex mix of metals—such as copper, cobalt, nickel, rare earths, lithium, and silver—many of which have only previously been mined in small amounts,” says a recent report commissioned by Earthworks, an environmental non-profit that promotes sustainable solutions to the impacts of mineral and energy development…

While the study explores the considerable impacts of such mining on human health and culture, it shows that biodiversity could be under threat too.

“A rapid increase in demand for metals for renewable energy … could lead to mining of marginal or unconventional resources, which are often in more remote or biodiverse places,” said study co-author Elsa Dominish, a senior research consultant at the ISF. In short, some remote wilderness areas have maintained high biodiversity because they haven’t yet been disturbed—but neither have their reserves of minerals, making these areas attractive targets for mining companies.

“The mining of many metals used for renewable energy technologies and EVs already impacts wildlife biodiversity,” Dominish told Mongabay, citing the example of bauxite mining.

Bauxite ore is used to produce aluminum, a key component in almost all renewable technologies. Like many minerals used by the renewable energy industry, the valuable ore sits near the surface, meaning that mining companies must clear and strip-mine large areas of land to acquire commercial quantities.

“Serious impacts of bauxite mining have been reported in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Guinea,” Dominish said. Mongabay recently looked at the effects of bauxite extraction in Guinea, where a mining concession poses a serious risk to populations of endangered western chimpanzees. Conflicts between biodiversity conservation efforts and mining operations may therefore become more frequent as the renewable energy industry picks up speed…

Climate change mitigation can benefit such at-risk ecosystems, but that’s true only for those that remain standing, Sonter told Mongabay: “While mitigating climate change is vital for conserving biodiversity, and increasing renewable energy production is an important avenue in achieving this goal, increasing metal demand could create huge new mining threats to biodiversity.”

New mines that will become active in the next two years, listed in the Earthworks report, include one for cobalt in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, nickel in Zambia, and rare earth metals (a group of 17 elements such as scandium and yttrium) in South Africa’s Western Cape region. These highly biodiverse sites are not the only areas at risk; threats to wildlife from such mining can be found nearly worldwide.

The DRC holds large reserves of minerals like nickel and cobalt, both in Katanga, where mines already exist, and under the lush jungles that are home to the country’s great apes, elephants, and other wildlife. A road built through previously untouched forest wilderness has brought hope and connectivity to the region’s rural populations and linked Cameroon to the DRC for the first time, but conservation officials fear it could also make new deposits of these valuable minerals accessible to mining companies.

In Madagascar, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, a proposed rare earth mine was recently given a renewed exploration license on the Ampasindava Peninsula. Mongabay previously reported that this mine could be problematic for some of Madagascar’s endemic wildlife, including populations of endangered Mittermeier’s sportive lemur.

Nickel mining on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has also caused environmental degradation in an area already weakened ecologically by demand for timber and oil palm, potentially putting habitat pressure on species like the critically endangered crested macaque. There are plans to increase nickel production through new mines, aimed at ramping up battery production in anticipation of EV demand, while proposed expansion of nickel mining in Indonesia has prompted violent protests as well as allegations of government corruption.

In the Americas, copper mining threatens Panama’s biodiverse tropical forests in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, where locals fear that water contamination and crop losses will provide “bread for today, hunger for tomorrow” for mine workers, as the saying goes. Other critics of the mining concession say the environmental impact assessment carried out by the project developers only accounted for large animals, ignoring potential harm to ecologically important groups like birds and bats…

“Reducing the environmental and social impacts of supply is not a major focus of the renewable energy industry,” according to its authors, who add that the negative impacts, particularly from mining cobalt in the DRC, are well known. Despite this, industry experts interviewed for the report say EV companies are wary of responsible sourcing, due to concerns that certified mines may not be able to produce enough volume to meet their needs

Threats to biodiversity sometimes come in different forms than land clearing, but can be just as harmful to wildlife. Lithium, which has been called the “white gold” of the energy transition, is the key component in lithium-ion batteries, making it essential to a range of products from cell phones to EVs. Much of the world’s lithium is found in the “Lithium Triangle” that sits between Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. The Earthworks report lists multiple mining projects now under development in all three countries.

Datu Buyung Agusdinata at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability researches patterns of lithium mining and the environmental degradation of Chile’s Atacama salt flats. According to research by his group, these salt flats, or salares, are facing degradation from the extraction…

“Lithium mining in the national reserved areas [is] affecting wildlife mostly due to intensive water withdrawal,” Agusdinata said. “Approximately two-million liters [530,000 gallons] of water are pumped and evaporated to obtain a ton of lithium product and more freshwater is needed to produce the purified form for export.”

The intense water requirements for lithium affect humans too. In Argentina’s Jujuy province, where similar lithium extraction techniques are used, members of indigenous Kolla communities recently blocked roads to protest the mining practices. Local communities in Chile have also faced water shortages, leading to the abandonment of crops and pastures, according to Agusdinata.

Interesting that lithium mining uses huge amounts of water isn’t? How is that water treated after use? It is nice, though, to see the Earthworks analysis finally gets around to impacts on humans, as opposed to the natural world. Their priorities seem to be upside down but, even by their biased standards, they admit renewables have humongous environmental impacts, which is even nicer.

Then, there’s this from the Wall Street Journal:

In the early 2000s, as chief development officer for Zilkha Renewable, [Michael] Skelly helped plan and build wind farms from New York to Washington state. Zilkha Renewable grew quickly. In 2005, it was bought by Goldman Sachs, which sold it a couple of years later to Energias de Portugal SA for $2.15 billion, a handsome profit.

It was becoming clear that there was no shortage of wind, and that it was the grid that was the barrier to the dream of alternative energy. There was plenty of wind in the Great Plains and solar in the southwestern U.S., but that’s not where demand for power was located. That power needed to be moved from one part of the country to another. For Skelly, the next adventure was tackling the grid itself.

He essentially wanted to build several long extension cords. One end would be plugged into the Oklahoma panhandle; the other end would reach east until it crossed the Mississippi River…

Skelly figured that if he could build an Oklahoma-to-Tennessee line, the proof of concept would unlock more private investment. He co-founded Clean Line Energy Partners, secured institutional funding and set out to realize his vision.

He soon discovered hidden booby traps…

Skelly wanted to build a transmission line across Arkansas, but the rules required Clean Line to be a utility. However, to be a utility, it needed to own or operate power equipment…

Then there was the land issue. In a few places, Clean Line might need the federal government to use eminent domain to be able to build the transmission line. Some Arkansans weren’t happy with that. Julie Morton, a former television weather reporter, wasn’t interested in Skelly’s arguments about national grids, reduced carbon emissions and low power prices. “Arkies,” she said, “we’re as poor as dirt, but we have land, and that is our core. When you start messing with that, you are messing with our heart and soul.” She didn’t want Skelly and Clean Line acquiring any right-of-way easements

Skelly expected to come to terms with landowners for at least 95% of the parcels. Eminent domain would be required for the rest. If he had been building a natural-gas pipeline, he would have finished the process in a matter of months…

In the end, tantalizingly close to being built, Skelly’s project stalled. In late 2017, Clean Line agreed to sell the Oklahoma portion of its project to Florida utility and power developer NextEra Energy. Other buyers snapped up other projects, which look likely to be built. The company Skelly had helped build would be stripped for parts like a car in a junkyard

In the months after the company folded, Skelly talked to various people about what he would do next. “I am feeling a little heartbroken,” he said.

Note the corporatism that is at the heart of renewables. The Wall Street Journal reports as if Kelly merely faced stupid regulatory and political obstacles, when the reality is that Kelly was used to operating in a corporatist environment where public subsidies made big Goldman Sachs profits possible and hid the ugly fact wind is a blustery loser. And, the land issue was just as real as it is always easy with pipelines, except that no one notices pipelines after they’re built.

No, renewables aren’t as friendly up close as they appear from 30,000 feet, especially when government isn’t there to pave the way past losses and regulations to profits. Natural gas is a quite different story. It requires no massive subsidies, the infrastructure to deliver it is well-hidden and there is a well-understood process for developing more as difficult as it may be at times due to opposition from renewables advocates. Moreover, the natural gas industry is always developing new technologies to stay ahead; the central fact ignored by its opponents.

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3 thoughts on “Carbon Dioxide Storage for Oil and Gas, As Renewables Hit Obstacle Wall

  1. “No, renewables aren’t as friendly up close as they appear from 30,000 feet, especially when government isn’t there to pave the way past losses and regulations to profits.

    Government was there for the maelstrom of natural gas subsidies and exemptions the industry has recieved.

    Natural gas is a quite different story.
    Is it, really?

    It requires no massive subsidies (obviously false), the infrastructure to deliver it is well-hidden

    By well-hidden, you mean countless of hammering diesel trucks tearing up Pennsylvania roads, and the frack wells which poison residents. You’re right, they are hidden!

    and there is a well-understood process

    Well understood? I don’t think. EPA couldn’t even identify most of the poisonous, cryptic chemicals fracking compnaies use in their chemical-frack-cocktail.

    for developing more as difficult as it may be at times due to opposition from renewables advocates. Moreover, the natural gas industry is always developing new technologies to stay ahead; the central fact ignored by its opponents.”

    What new technologies…? Pretty broad generalization here. Thank goodness this “news” website isn’t known. Nothing but false information being spread by a natural gas beneficiary, baby boomer who has little-to-know understanding of how the *real* world works.

    • You must have missed the article on the up-and-coming small-scale natgas liquefaction plants to allow ‘stranded gas’ to be utilized, and to make a ‘virtual pipeline’ across NY to New England, since Cuomo has blocked the most-sensible pipeline transport.

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