Discussion of Carbon Capture Plans in Central California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — In its latest ambitious road map to fight climate change, California is banking on capturing carbon from the air and storing it deep underground on a scale never seen before in the United States.
The to plan — proposed by the administration of Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom — comes just as the Biden administration has increased incentives for carbon capture projects in an attempt to spur development across the country. Newsom signed the contract last year, continuing 20 years of climate efforts the law the requirement that California remove as much carbon from the air as it emits by 2045 is one of the world’s fastest deadlines for achieving so-called carbon neutrality. He ordered the powerful California Air Resources Board to drastically cut fossil fuel use and build massive carbon capture and storage facilities.
To meet its climate goals, California must rapidly transform an economy that exceeds that of most countries, but stiff resistance to carbon capture from environmental groups and concerns about how to transport gas safely could delay progress — practical and political hurdles the Democratic-led Legislature must now navigate.
Last year, California’s state legislature passed a law that says carbon dioxide can’t flow through new pipelines until the federal government finishes writing tougher safety rules, a process that could take years. As a potential backup, the law ordered the California Agency of Natural Resources to write its own pipeline standards to be considered by lawmakers, a report more than three weeks overdue.
While there are other ways to transport carbon dioxide besides pipelines, such as trucks or ships, pipelines are considered key to ensuring the level of carbon capture California mandates. Newsom said the state needs to capture 100 million metric tons of carbon each year by 2045 — about a quarter of what the state now emits annually.
“We don’t expect (carbon capture and storage) to happen on a large scale unless we can solve this pipeline problem,” said Rajinder Sahota, the air council’s deputy executive director for climate change and research.
State Sen. Anna Caballero, who is authoring the carbon capture legislation, said the state’s goal will be to create a security system that is even more robust than what the federal government will develop. But she played down any urgency to move forward with pipeline rules, saying smaller projects that don’t require long-distance travel could begin in the meantime.
“We don’t need pipelines between different facilities right now,” she said.
Last year’s Inflation Reduction Act boosts federal funding for carbon capture, increasing payments from $50 to $85 a ton for capturing carbon dioxide from industrial plants and storing it underground. There are also federal grants and state incentives.
Without clarity on the state’s pipeline plans, the state puts itself at a “competitive disadvantage” when it comes to attracting projects, said Sam Brown, a former EPA attorney and partner at the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth.
If the pipeline moratorium slows down projects for three or four years, Brown said, “why would you put money into these projects in California when you can do it in Texas or Louisiana or somewhere else?”
The geology for storing carbon dioxide is rare, but California has it in parts of the Central Valley, a vast expanse of farmland that runs through the center of the state.
The oil and gas company California Resources Corp. is developing a project to create hydrogen there. It plans to capture carbon from that hydrogen plant and the natural gas plant that powers it. The carbon dioxide will then be stored in the old oil field. This does not require special pipeline approval because it all happens on the company’s property.
But the company also wants to contain emissions from other industries, such as manufacturing and transportation. Transportation will rely on pipelines that cannot yet be built.
“These are parts of the economy that need to be decarbonized,” said Chris Gould, the company’s executive vice president and chief sustainability officer. “It makes economic sense to do so.”
Safety concerns heightened in 2020 after a Mississippi pipeline ruptured in a landslide, releasing a plume of heavier-than-air carbon dioxide that displaced oxygen near the ground. 45 people received help in the hospital, several lost consciousness. There are thousands of miles of carbon dioxide pipelines operating across the country, and industry advocates are calling the event an anomaly. But the gap in Mississippi has prompted federal regulators to explore tightening existing rules for carbon pipelines.
Lupe Martinez, who lives in Kern County, California, worries about what will happen if developers target the region’s carbon storage.
He used to spray the fields with pesticides without protective equipment. On windy days, it was soaked with chemicals. Martinez, who watched some of his colleagues later battle cancer, says he was lied to about safety then and doesn’t believe promises that carbon capture is now safe.
“They treat us like guinea pigs,” said Martinez, a longtime labor activist.
Emissions from the oil and gas industry are a major cause of climate change, and in the past the industry has undermined hard evidence that greenhouse gases are causing severe climate disruption. Environmentalists argue that carbon capture – unproven as an important climate solution – will help industry continue to pollute the environment in places that are already heavily polluted. Instead of shutting down fossil-fueled plants, carbon capture will increase their profits and extend their lifespan, said Kathryn Garupa, executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition.
But carbon capture advocates say it’s critical for Kern County oil and gas companies to find new ways to make money and keep people on the job as California moves away from fossil fuels, an industry that is “the very fabric” of the region’s identity, said Lorelei Ovyat, director of the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources.
Without a new source of revenue like carbon capture, “Kern County is going to be the next Gary, Indiana,” she said, referring to the years-old collapse of the Rust Belt.
There are currently no active carbon capture projects in California. To demonstrate that the technology is viable and people can get permits for it, it’s important to build the first projects, said George Peridos, director of the Carbon Management Partnership at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Peridas said one region with the potential to store carbon dioxide is the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a vast estuary on the western edge of the Central Valley that is a vital source of drinking water and an ecologically sensitive home for hundreds of species.
A dammed-up island of farmland nearly half the size of Manhattan would be an ideal place to safely store carbon dioxide, Peridas said.
Tom Zuckerman, who represents island owners in the project and is an owner himself, recently applied for a federal permit for a project to capture emissions from a Stockton ethanol plant, ship it on barges nearly 10 miles down the San Joaquin River and sequester it deep under the island. The project does not need a pipeline, so the ban does not affect it. He hopes that it will be operational in a few years.
“If we’re going to do much of anything to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country, areas like this are going to be critical,” Zuckerman said.