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Greenhouse Innovation:
Bury the Carbons in Rock

by Editors
Seattle Times, December 1, 2006

If burying carbon dioxide deep within the basalt rock formations of Eastern Washington can help reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, the idea deserves support.

Scientists at the federal Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland hope to begin testing the possibility next year. The porous nature of basalt, which parts of the state have in abundance, can be used to hold carbon emissions deep underground, capped naturally by thick rock. Energy Northwest -- Seattle City Light, Tacoma Power and Snohomish County Public Utility District are among the consortium of 20 public utilities -- and Puget Sound Energy are part of a Department of Energy-sponsored effort to study the viability of carbon sequestration.

Energy Northwest has proposed building a new Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant in Cowlitz County. The plant likely would use an oil-production byproduct, petroleum coke, as a fuel source, a generating process that is cleaner than coal plants. But the plant also is being designed at considerable additional cost to be adaptable to carbon sequestration technology.

The technology is used in Norway, where emissions taxes are imposed; and in Saskatchewan, where carbon dioxide is used to push petroleum out of the ground. Without a tax or a side use, carbon sequestration is not widespread because it is costly.

While many environmental groups support the technology, some worry its use will dampen the sense of urgency to reduce greenhouse gases.

But the consensus that things must be done to reduce greenhouse gases is not going away. Voters in this state recently approved an initiative requiring most utilities to have a certain percentage of their energy portfolio in renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave and solar (but not hydropower).

Maybe the process could reduce undesirable emissions from existing plants. Plus, population pressure and energy demand may go too fast for development of renewable energy sources to keep up, creating pressure for more nonrenewable generating plants.

If carbon sequestration technology is successful, it could be a way to make existing plants cleaner and to keep any new energy plants as clean as possible.

Greenhouse Innovation: Bury the Carbons in Rock
Seattle Times, December 1, 2006

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