Saturday, June 2, 2012

Carbon Capture and Sequestration, Revisited

I previously posted about an empirical study that my colleagues and I at the University of Utah law school's Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment and the Institute for Clean and Secure Energy conducted on carbon capture and sequestration ("CCS").  The point of the study was to try to assess, from the perspective of the CCS industry, what the biggest barriers are to CCS commercialization and, accordingly, what CCS law and policy should look like.

With both coal plants and CCS in the news recently, I thought it might be worth revisiting a few interesting points from that study I did not highlight before.  Some of the study findings were most important because they added empirical heft to what many commentators already suggested.  For instance, many have suggested that some of the biggest problems with CCS are its cost and potential liability issues, and our study confirmed that those are in fact leading barriers to CCS commercialization.

On the other hand, the study revealed some facts that run counter to conventional CCS wisdom.  One of these was that the CCS industry is generally quite confident in its technology.  That stands in contrast to many reports, which suggest that big demonstration projects must be built before CCS can be deployed at a broad scale.  Of course, AEP has now abandoned -- at least for the time being-- its demonstration project, but the fact that this project was operational at all underscores, at least to a degree, our finding that CCS technology can function on the big stage.

Another interesting finding was that the CCS industry is very interested in a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, regulatory regime.  This jives with industry's general craving for certainty but not necessarily with political calls in the media for a hands-off approach to regulation of industries with environmental impacts.  Moreover, the survey findings were rather clear that industry wants not just a comprehensive regulatory regime but one that uses a cooperative federalism model with federal regulatory floors but state implementation to adjust to local conditions.  In any case, in a world where many lambast federal regulation at all, it is very clear that the CCS community thinks there is a federal role of some kind to play in governing carbon capture and sequestration.


- Lincoln Davies

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