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US has more than 500 years of carbon storage, still faces hurdles: report

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US has more than 500 years of carbon storage, still faces hurdles: report

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An Interior Department report released Wednesday said US geologicalbasins have the potential to store more than 500 years worth of carbondioxide emissions from power plants, natural gas processing facilities andother sources.

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But the study clearly shows that the basins with the highest potentialfor carbon storage are away from the Southeast region, Mid-Atlantic and OhioValley, which accounts for the 65% of the US' coal-fired capacity, accordingto the US Energy Information Administration. This means that despite the USstorage potential, infrastructure needs -- including a number of new pipelineswhich need to be built to connect power plants, compression stations andthese basins -- could make geologic sequestration costly.

The study, which was conducted by the US Geological Survey, theInterior's scientific arm, and mandated by Congress in the EnergyIndependence and Security Act of 2007, did not look at the economics ofgeologic carbon storage. A separate study is examining costs, officials said.The study also did not look at land management issues or governmentregulations which could prevent the development of storage basins.

Despite the potential hurdles, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell onWednesday called the study "nothing short of groundbreaking" and said itwould provide her department with a "great baseline of data to build on."

Through geologic sequestration carbon dioxide captured from anindustrial or energy source is injected into deep subsurface rock formation for long-term storage.

"The United States has the potential to store an enormous amount ofcarbon dioxide if enough of this technically accessible storage capacity alsoproves to be environmentally and economically viable, and those questions havenot yet been answered in this study," Jewell told reporters.

According to the study, the US has the potential to store 3,000 metricgigatons of carbon dioxide in geologic basins. By comparison, the US emittedroughly 5.5 gigatons of energy-related carbon dioxide in 2011, according tothe EIA, while global emissions totaled 31.6 gigatons that year.

"You can see that we have significant [storage] potential compared towhat we emit each year," Brenda Pierce, an energy resources programcoordinator with USGS, said during a conference call Wednesday.

Gulf Coast states have the most storage potential, according to the study, accounting for 2,000 metric gigatons of possible storage. Alaska'sNorth Slope, the Rocky Mountains and the Northern Great Plains have thepotential to store 270 metric gigatons.

The Gulf Coast has the most storage capacity because of sedimentaryformations and a lack of freshwater supply, Pierce said.

The study follows a major policy speech by President Barack Obama onTuesday in which he outlined a plan to cut US carbon emissions and lead aglobal effort to combat climate change. The plan calls on the USEnvironmental Protection Agency to finalize new standards on greenhouse gasemissions from new and existing power plants before the end of his secondterm.

The study follows two separate studies the Interior released in 2011 and2012 on biologic carbon sequestration, which is natural carbon storage thatoccurs in trees, fields and other ecosystems.

--Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@platts.com
--Edited by Joshua Mann, joshua.mann@platts.com