Speech: Utilizing CCS to Reduce Emissions

Keynote speech by Eileen Claussen, President of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
11th Annual Conference on Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
May 1, 2012

Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to be here in Pittsburgh. And I want to thank Exchange Monitor Publications and Forums, together with the Department of Energy and the National Energy Technology Laboratory and their partnering organizations, for convening this very timely and very important conference.  

Everything is so well organized and the breakfast spread was so perfect and so tantalizing … for a moment I thought I was at an event put together by the General Services Administration.  

I also congratulate you for putting added emphasis this year on the utilization of carbon emissions and for changing the title of the conference to reflect this … Now it can officially be said that this is the event that put the “you” in CCS. If only we could add an “A” word to the end and make it CCUSA, then we could add some patriotic flair to this whole endeavor. 

In all seriousness, I want to talk with you today about why CCS (or any acronym we choose to employ for it) is so important … not just for the future of fossil fuels—but also for the future of this country and its efforts to get a handle on the twin challenges of energy and climate change. 

And I also want to discuss one of the most promising technologies available for making large-scale CCS a reality. I am talking, of course, about CO2-enhanced oil recovery, or CO2-EOR, which is an issue that my organization has been working intently on as a co-convener of the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative.

Whether you spend the bulk of your waking hours worrying about the potential dangers of climate change or not, CO2-EOR makes a huge amount of sense for a number of reasons that I intend to go over later in my remarks. But first I want to talk about why we are even having this conversation and why the United States and the world must finally get serious about taking full advantage of big opportunities CO2-EOR.

When it comes to energy and climate, the United States stands at a crossroads today. Indeed, we are standing there with the rest of the world. At this crossroads, we have a choice to make. We can continue with a business-as-usual or status quo approach to energy and climate issues. If that’s what we choose, we’ll continue to face the same questions and the same concerns not just about the environment and climate change but about energy-related risks to our national security, our economy and jobs, and more.

Or we can choose a new road to the future--that protects our economy, our security and our climate for decades to come. 

The environmental case for doing this is compelling enough. According to most scenarios, global emissions of greenhouse gases need to peak by 2015 in order to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. This is the level where many scientists say we can manage the risks of climate change, but there is considerable debate even on this point and some think we will already be flirting with disaster at 2 degrees Celsius.  

Whatever the case, 2015 is just three years away. Are emissions showing any signs of peaking? Not even close … After a brief downturn due to the recession, newly released figures from the EPA show that U.S. emissions resumed their upward march in 2010, rising by 3.2 percent compared to 2009. And global emissions are projected to grow 17 percent by 2020, and 37 percent by 2035. Under that scenario, we could see average global temperatures rise 3 to 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

But, even if you are an ardent skeptic of the science of climate change or of our ability to dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the energy case should be motivation enough for abandoning the status quo and following a new and different road to the future.   

What do we care about? Reliability. Affordability. Security. Reduced environmental impact. These have to be the hallmarks of U.S. energy policy going forward, and carbon capture and storage can and must be an important component of that policy. It provides us with the means to continue using fossil fuels in a carbon–constrained future. It is especially critical for producing electricity from both coal and natural gas, while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions.    

Coal, of course, has the most at stake in this discussion. Coal, in fact, is at a crossroads itself. The latest figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration confirm that coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation is decreasing. 

In 2006, coal-fired generation accounted for more than half (50.4 percent to be exact) of the total generation mix in this country. By the end of 2011, that figure had declined to 43.4 percent of the mix, a drop of 7 percentage points. The biggest factor in coal’s relative decline, of course, is dropping natural gas prices. According to EIA, natural gas prices are forecast to remain below $5 per million BTUs for the next 10 years. This is why we’re seeing so many new natural gas power plants. EIA’s latest estimates for 2011 and 2012 show around 20 gigawatts of added capacity planned for natural gas versus around 9 gigawatts for coal. Add to this the spare capacity of existing gas-fired power plants that were built to generate electricity during the daytime hours only and you can see the challenges facing coal.   

New EPA rules also pose challenges for coal. The new Mercury Rule alone, which was issued last December, will affect 1,325 units at 525 power plants of all types around the United States. Some of these plants are more than 50 years old, and companies may retire older plants rather than paying to install new pollution control equipment.

In addition, there is EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) and, on the industrial side, the 2011 rule imposing new emissions reductions requirements on coal-fired boilers. And most notably, of course, earlier this spring the EPA proposed the first-ever national standards for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. In order to comply with the rules, new plants would have to install carbon capture and storage technologies. There is essentially no other way for these plants to reduce their emissions to the level required under this proposal. 

After detailing all of these challenges for coal, I am inclined to ask the question, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”

The proposed GHG rules make it official: In order to keep coal’s share of the U.S. energy mix from declining further, we need to throw out old ways of thinking. We need to think big. This is not just about trying to compete with natural gas on price; it is about embracing new ideas and new technologies to ensure that coal can continue as a fuel of choice in a world that, whether you like it or not, will become increasingly focused on limiting and reducing carbon emissions.

Coal alone is responsible for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Worldwide, 43 percent of CO2 emissions from fuel combustion come from coal. Clearly, something has to give. In order for the world to get a handle on the climate problem, and in order for coal to hold onto its place as a major energy source in the decades to come, we need to show – and very quickly – that it is possible to achieve substantial cuts in emissions from coal-fired power generation.

In other words, we need to find a low-carbon solution for coal. And coal is not our only challenge – we need all the low-carbon and carbon-free technologies we can get. The good news about natural gas is that it generates half of the emissions of coal when used as a fuel source. But that’s also the not-so-good news about natural gas; it still generates substantial emissions, and in order to achieve the level of reductions that will reduce the risk of climate change, we need CCS for natural gas as well as for coal.   

The potential for CCS to reduce emissions is undeniable. Studies show that CCS technology could reduce CO2 emissions from a coal-fueled power plant by as much as 90 percent.  Modeling done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that CCS could provide 19 percent of total global GHG emission reductions by 2050. That includes reductions from coal and natural gas-fired power plants, as well as all other sources.

But these are just studies, they are merely estimates of what could happen if CCS finally emerges from the world of drawing boards and demonstration projects to actual widespread deployment throughout this country and around the world.  What we are doing right now to develop these technologies is not enough; it’s not even close to enough.  We have two decades at most to deploy these technologies at the scale needed to achieve substantial reductions in emissions.  

And one way to start is by taking a more serious approach to the development of CO2-Enhanced Oil Recovery in this country.  

For nearly 15 years, my organization has sought to bring industry, government, NGOs and others together to explore innovative solutions to the climate and energy challenges we face in the United States and around the world. We see CO2-EOR as a very important piece of the puzzle. And this is why we worked with the Great Plains Institute to convene the National Enhanced Oil Recovery Initiative, or NEORI. NEORI is a coalition of industry, state, environmental and labor leaders who have come together to develop and present recommendations for boosting domestic oil production and reducing CO2 emissions through the expanded use of CO2-EOR.

The participants in this effort believe that EOR using captured carbon dioxide offers a safe and commercially proven method of expanding domestic oil production that can help the U.S. simultaneously address three urgent national priorities. 

  • The first priority is increasing our nation’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil, including oil that is imported from unstable and hostile nations. CO2-EOR potential in the United States equals 26 to 61 billion barrels of oil with existing technology; with next-generation techniques the potential rises to 67 to around 140 billion barrels. U.S. proven reserves are 20 billion barrels, so we are talking about at least doubling U.S. oil potential. That’s huge. 
  • The second priority that CO2-EOR addresses is creating economic opportunity – if we do this right, it will create jobs, boost tax revenues, and reduce the U.S. trade deficit. We can put dollars we now spend on oil imports to work right here in the U.S. economy. How much money are we talking about? One estimate, from Advanced Resources International, projects that the reduction in oil imports associated with CO2-EOR would total $600 billion by 2030. 
  • And the third priority addressed by CO2-EOR? Protecting the environment. Capturing and storing CO2 from industrial facilities and power plants will reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, while getting more American crude from areas already developed for oil and gas production. By fully developing American reserves that are amenable to this practice, we could reduce CO2 emissions by 10 billion to 19 billion tons, an amount equal to 10 to 20 years of emissions from personal vehicle use in this country. And the bonus is that it can help us further the commercial deployment of the CCS industry in this country — not just with coal and natural gas power plants, but with other domestic industries such as natural gas processing, ethanol and ammonia production, and steel and cement manufacturing. Driving innovation in CCS technology will allow us both to take advantage of our nation’s vast fossil fuel resources and achieve much larger CO2 emission reductions.

I have worked on the climate issue for many years now, and I assure you this is a big deal. Reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by up to 19 billion tons while also advancing CCS technology would be a major achievement.

So if CO2-EOR is so important, why aren’t we doing more of it? Well, as all of you know, the major hurdle standing in our way is that there’s just not enough readily available CO2. And this is why our organization joined with the Great Plains Institute to convene the NEORI. 

The idea behind this initiative was to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders and try to come to agreement about what needs to happen to realize CO2-EOR’s potential. More specifically, we wanted to develop a set of recommendations for federal and state incentives that will stimulate the expansion of CO2-EOR using carbon dioxide from power plants and industrial facilities. 

Were these conversations easy? In a word, no. This is a group that included participants ranging from major coal companies and industrial suppliers of CO2 to environmental NGOs, organized labor, and state officials. The diversity of the group meant we had some very tough discussions. But in the spirit of the saying, “Nothing that is worthwhile is easy,” the final participants in this project stuck with it, and they came up with a plan that already has attracted bipartisan interest in Congress. We released this plan earlier this year at an event on Capitol Hill, and I want to give you a quick sense of what it entails.

NEORI’s centerpiece recommendation is a competitively awarded, revenue-positive federal production tax credit for capturing and transporting CO2 to stimulate CO2-EOR expansion. This federal tax credit would more than pay for itself because it will lead to additional oil production subject to existing tax treatment. The new incentive will enable a variety of industry sectors to market new sources of CO2 to the oil industry, and to reduce their carbon footprints. It will drive innovation and cost reduction in CO2 capture and compression, and help build out a national CO2 pipeline system.  

For the near term and until the broader credit is in place, NEORI also recommends specific “good government” changes to improve the workability of the existing carbon capture and storage credit known as Section 45Q

Of course, states also have an important role to play in fostering CO2-EOR deployment. This is why NEORI identifies existing state policies that should serve as models for policymakers in other states to adopt and tailor to their particular needs. 

Later this morning, you will hear more about our recommendations from a panel of NEORI participants. And I encourage you to visit the website, www.neori.org, for more on the recommendations we have made. 

So let’s cut to the chase. What will happen if we adopt these measures I have described? NEORI estimates that our proposed new federal production tax credit for CO2 capture will quadruple the amount of domestic oil currently produced annually through enhanced oil recovery – to 400 million barrels a year in the outyears – while cutting CO2 emissions by 4 billion tons over the next 40 years. In addition, we will be generating new tax revenue for states and for the federal government – as I said, these incentives will more than pay for themselves. And we will be gaining vital experience and creating valuable infrastructure supporting broader deployment of carbon capture and sequestration in the future. 

At a time of economic struggle, fiscal crisis and political gridlock, at C2ES we believe the NEORI proposal is an encouraging example of how we can and must make progress on the climate and energy challenges we face. As much as we would like to see comprehensive solutions to our climate and energy challenges, those solutions are not on the immediate horizon. But if we come at these issues one by one, look for opportunities where interests converge, and are open to compromise, we can arrive at practical solutions benefiting our economy, our security and the environment.

At the Capitol Hill event where NEORI announced our recommendations in February, we also were able to welcome a bipartisan group of members of Congress who were on hand to express their support. Given the political gridlock in Washington in this election year, it was reassuring to see lawmakers from both political parties step up and say they agree that this is important work. 

Will we see comprehensive legislation on this issue pass the Congress this year? That’s unlikely … but we do think we have a shot at Section 45Q reform this year. Still, the NEORI recommendations have started the conversation and we feel optimistic that we can see progress on this issue in the not-too-distant future no matter who controls the Presidency and the Congress next year. 

All of which brings me to the closing segment of my remarks today, in which I simply want to appeal to all of you to help us keep pushing these issues forward. 

Rarely in the current political climate do Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Washington rally together in support of anything. So we need to make the most of this opportunity. Everyone who supports CO2-EOR has an obligation to educate their representatives in Washington and in state capitals around the country about the benefits this can deliver for our economy, our national security and the environment. 

We also need to help the general public understand what’s at stake here … why we need to reduce emissions, why CO2 use and sequestration in depleted oil fields is an important solution, and what this can mean for the future of our country, and for the future of fossil fuels as well.

Thank you very much.