Carbon capture will require the massive construction of pipelines

Bob Balch, director of NM Tech’s Oil Recovery Research Center, says New Mexico producers have been running CO2 pipeline systems for decades. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

The inherent dangers of capturing and transporting carbon dioxide for industrial operations exploded into the public domain two years ago when a CO2 pipeline suddenly ruptured in the small town of Satartia, Mississippi.

The pipeline opened in the early evening of February 22, 2020, releasing a plume of carbon dioxide that within minutes engulfed Satartia and surrounding areas. It sickened dozens of residents, sending 49 people to hospitals and forcing the evacuation of at least 250 others.

The Huffington Post published a detailed report on the incident last September, which the Virginia-based Climate Investigations Center produced after a 19-month investigation.

During the event, people collapsed in their homes and vehicles, according to the report. Others wandered around dazed, nauseous and out of breath.

“Even months later, residents of the city reported mental health issues, lung dysfunction, chronic fatigue, and gastric distress,” wrote Dan Zegart, CIC lead investigator and report author.

The incident highlights the potential risks that many other American communities could face if carbon capture and sequestration technology were widely deployed, Zegart told the Journal in a recent interview. To handle the billions of tons of CO2 that industry and federal policymakers hope to sequester over time from industrial operations across the country, a new network of continent-wide CO2 pipelines is needed to transport the captured carbon to special locations equipped for permanent storage in deep and underground geological formations.

The federal government is now considering exactly that, with billions of dollars already earmarked for building pipelines across the country in President Joe Biden’s new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, approved last fall. and other proposals in other bills currently pending in Congress.

A Princeton University study, released in December 2020 and funded in part by the oil industry, calls for a 65,000 mile system by 2050, compared to just 5,000 miles of CO2 pipelines currently in service in the states -United. And even at that level, the new system could only transport about 15% of the greenhouse gas emissions of today’s United States, according to the CIC.

Maps from the Princeton study – along with others published by the US Department of Energy’s Carbon Capture Program at the National Energy Technology Laboratory and by Minnesota’s Great Plains Institute – show a vast network of potential pipelines stretching from coast to coast, Zegart said. . It includes huge main lines spanning nearly every state, including New Mexico, as well as a branch line system jutting into local communities.

The cost of even building the network alongside CCS deployment could run into billions of dollars, especially given the special requirements for securing CO2 pipelines, Zegart said.

CO2 is highly corrosive, especially if contaminated with water, requiring robust pipeline structures to contain it and careful monitoring of gas purity.

To transport it, the carbon is compressed into a liquid state and then pumped through pipelines under high pressure. And the tube is much larger in diameter than typical gas pipelines, with compressors needed throughout the system to keep the CO2 in a liquid state.

CO2 behaves differently than natural gas in a pipeline, making a rupture particularly dangerous, according to a report on CCS and pipelines from the Center for International Environmental Law, or CIEL, which was cited in the CIC report. about the Satartia incident.

“Because of the intense pressures involved, explosive decompression of a CO2 pipeline releases more gas, faster, than an equivalent pipeline explosion,” the CIEL report states. “Even a modest break can spread freezing CO2 over a wide area in seconds.”

Proponents of CCS say that pipeline operators have decades of experience in safely managing CO2 networks through enhanced oil recovery operations, or EOR, in which producers inject CO2 into wells. aging petroleum to create pressure to push more crude to the surface, while leaving CO2 sequestered underground.

New Mexico producers in the Permian Basin have operated these systems for decades, operating hundreds of miles of local CO2 pipelines, said Bob Balch, director of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center at the Institute of Mining and Technology of New -Mexico to Socorro.

Despite the Satartia incident, very few accidents have occurred over the years, he added.

“We understand carbon transport well, because we’ve been doing it for decades,” Balch told the Journal. “If there were any major risks with the pipelines, we would already know.”

Still, industry and government officials will need substantial buy-in from local communities before building new CO2 pipeline networks, Zegart said. And local officials will need to review and possibly update surveillance and security regulations.

“Nobody really talks about CCS pipeline issues, but CO2 transport is really the fly in the ointment,” Zegart said. “It requires a huge network that is much more expensive to build than other pipelines, and it will cross many highly populated areas across the country. Getting buy-in from the public can be the biggest problem.

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