Carbon Sequestration: How Environmentalists Boost Oil Company Profits

Environmentalism as practiced by extremists is a blind faith. Their demands for action to deal with non-existent problems create bizarre situations. They ignore science, logic, and facts to identify problems; so there are often unintended consequences. One involves the environmentalist’s obsession with CO2 and the oil industry. They’re the enemy who produce the energy that drives the engines of capitalism and CO2 supposedly destroying the planet.

IPCC computer models are the only places were CO2 is causing warming or climate change. Actually, human production is miniscule relative to natural amounts. If everybody left the planet except one person who remained to measure changes in CO2 level, she would detect no difference. CO2 is essential to plants that use it to grow and produce oxygen to support all other life. Plants grow much more efficiently at levels four and five times higher than current levels. There is no need to reduce the level, and significant increases are beneficial to all life.

Environmentalism is a necessary new paradigm, and we’re all environmentalists because we realize we must live within the physical constraints of our planet. However, a few with a political agenda claim the title of environmentalist for themselves. From the moral high ground of the new religion, they try to convince the world that only they care. Only they can save the planet. Obsession with this objective has created an opportunity for despised oil companies to increase profits and improve the corporate image yet with possible harmful effects to the planet. If you create false problems, you’re obliged to find unnecessary and usually false solutions.

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The false problem is that CO2 is causing global warming or climate change. As a result, a variety of false solutions to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2 have been attempted or proposed. None are necessary; many are potentially hazardous to the environment and society. They include physical intervention (called geoengineering) and political and economic policies. An example is the proposal to get rid of excess CO2 by pumping it into the ground, called carbon sequestration. The oil industry has used it for at least 40 years, but call it Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR).

Pumping is the normal recovery procedure, but no matter how effective, there’s always a significant percentage left behind. In the early days, pumping water down created a more fluid mixture that allowed continued pumping. Water injection is still the major procedure. Experiments with injecting CO2 began in 1972 and showed its efficiency, so by 2008 it was 37 percent of the total EOR. Clearly, EOR is a viable technology that increases oil reserves by making more in a deposit recoverable. Oil fields already in production can extend operation and global oil potential reserves are increased.

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Most people don’t understand how the amount of reserve is determined. It is not a simple geologic measure of the total deposit but a function of price. Higher price means more is recoverable, so bigger reserve. EOR increases the reserve but is an expensive technology:

First, CO2 is not a costless input. Significant up-front investments are required to make production and injection wells suitable for CO2 use. In addition, maintaining a given injection rate over time requires continuous purchases to make up for the fraction of injected CO2 that remains sequestered in the reservoir. Separating the remaining fraction that resurfaces with the produced oil, and then dehydrating and recompressing it, is costly as well.

What better than to have the taxpayer pay EOR costs? Well, that is what government carbon sequestration proposals will do.

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Government funding of sequestration will significantly increase the volume of CO2 injected into the ground. The US Department of Energy estimates world potential for CO2 EOR is 130 billion tonnes. What are the cost/ benefits? Will more subsidized oil reduce the cost and result in more CO2 going to the atmosphere? Will this extra oil produce more CO2 than is injected? What happens to the CO2 when injected? Not all the CO2 injected is mixed, so how much stays in the ground? Water absorbs CO2 with the amount dependent on temperature. Raindrops absorb CO2 as they fall through the atmosphere and create a 10 percent carbonic acid. Presumably the same happens with the groundwater. But what level of CO2 solution is safe? There are many questions, but few answers.

A 2006 meeting of the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) created a “Task Force to Examine Risk Assessment Standard and Procedures”. The Phase I final report appeared in October 2009. It indicates how little is known.

For the future developments of risk assessment, demonstration projects will undoubtedly be a significant source of information that can be drawn upon to help develop confidence in results.

(So the answers are in the future.)

Demonstration projects will naturally take a time to produce the required results; in the mean time we should look to natural and industrial analogues as sources of information that can be used to generate confidence in geological storage of CO2 as a safe and environmentally acceptable mitigation option.

The Demonstration projects were recommended by the G8 in 2008. On October 22, 2009, the Australian government announced the Gorgon, the world’s largest carbon sequestration project. This means the work is going ahead without meaningful knowledge of the short or long-term impacts. Consider how quickly this project was implemented. Apparently, it jumped all the incredible environmental red tape that most other projects face.

What a mess! Does Walter Scott’s point about the tangled web of lies apply? Yes, and the bigger the lie, the bigger the tangle. It is so tangled that the environmentalists have created opportunities for their enemy to produce more oil and make more money with possible harm to the environment. Sequestration is a Hobson’s choice for citizens, which means no real choice at all. You pay in higher gas prices or higher taxes – or, more likely, both. Of course, the real choice is do nothing because CO2 is not a problem.

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