What's on my mind.

26 July 2007

Carbon Sequestration, WTF is that?

It is what I do. Or at least the research I am currently working on.

'Carbon sequestration' is the term used by the U.S. Dept of Energy to refer to projects designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it for the long term. Why DOE choose sequestration instead of storage, like the rest of the English speaking world, no one out side the agency knows but we are stuck with a word that has most of the public going "huh???" but no one asked me.

Twice recently when asked what it is I do, I've had people assume that because I work in fossil fuel research I am not in an environmentally friendly field. Both times I was quick to point to the CO2 sequestration project, which I spend most of my work week on (unless of course I am slacking off). I am sorry I didn't challenge the individual's perception that fossil fuels are inherently bad. (as this cartoon illustrates)

The division of the state agency I work for is called the Energy Investigation Program. There are several projects going at the moment. A couple of them have to do with estimating reserves and potential for conventional oil and gas development, coal bed methane development, and coal reserves; two of them are about CO2 sequestration; one is tangentially related to CO2 sequestration. Not one employee in the EIP (or the whole agency for that matter) wants to see our planet raped and pillaged or rapid global climate change (a.k.a. global warming), nor (I am fairly certain) do any of us hold any other anti-environment views. We do however understand the necessity of the use of fossil fuels in the short and long terms to maintain the standard of living the developed and developing worlds have come to know and love.

Are big energy companies environmentally friendly? Not out of the goodness of their hearts. They are businesses and they exist to make money not be nice. If being "greener" will make their profits go up, then they will be "greener".

Are Americans prepared to stop driving their cars, stop using electricity, stop buying plastic shit,...? NO.

Most of the electricity you use (at least if you are living in America) is from coal fired power plants. If we stop mining coal you will not be able to set your thermostat at 70° and keep your beer cold in the fridge.

The gas used to heat millions of homes across America (and the world) comes from the burning of natural gas and propane. It has to come out of the ground. I like to not get frostbite. How about you?

Almost every single drop of the fuel used to power cars, trains, buses, boats, and planes comes from crude oil. (A very few of you use biodiesel and good for you. There is ethanol being used. There isn't enough used cooking oil for all of us. Not enough corn to feed the world and run our cars. You are still shooting CO2 out your tailpipe.) Without oil rigs the world over, I would not have gotten to work this morning and neither would have you. Are you prepared to ride a bike, keep horses, and not travel very far ever? I didn't think so.

Are there things we can do to lessen our impact on the Earth? OF COURSE! There are many things we can all do everyday to lessen the amount of fossil fuel used to support our way of life and lessen our environmental footprint (carbon and otherwise). Public transit, car pooling, planning errands to avoid extra driving, recycling, shorter showers, public transit, washing the clothes in warm rather than hot water, turning the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter, programmable thermostats, recycling,...I could go on and on.

Do we need to look into alternatives for fossil fuels? YES. It will one day be economically and environmentally unavoidable. Right now there are no commercially viable alternatives to the gasoline and diesel, universally available. Alternatives for electricity production help but all have environmental costs that have to be weighed. (Where you going to put that nuclear waste? What river are you going to dam?)

These are complex problems that we created over the last 100 years. There is no simple solution. Please don't assume that my job is about stripping the world's natural resources, future be damned. I hope to one day have grandchildren, too. I am, however, a realist, geologist, and environmentalist.

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