key tool for decarburization or “false solution?”

Polly Glover realized her son had asthma when he was nine months old. Now 26, he has an inhaler in his pocket while out walking in Prairieville, Louisiana, part of Ascension Parish.

“He probably has to leave Ascension quite honestly,” Glover says, but he has not done so because “this is his home and this is our family and this is our community.”

The township is part of the 850-mile (137-kilometer) span between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, officially known as the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, better known as Cancer Alley. The region’s air quality is among the worst in the United States, and in several places along the corridor the risk of cancer is much higher than the levels that the US Environmental Protection Agency considers acceptable.

Glover says the air is “awful” where she lives, but there is also great biodiversity – ospreys, eagles, migratory birds, deer, rabbits, fish and alligators – among the region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands. The environmental advocate has worked for 30 years to preserve the place she has loved since childhood.

That’s why she’s wary of anything that could make air quality worse or threaten wildlife – and her biggest fear now is that a $ 4.5 billion plant designed to capture climate-changing coal and clean up burning hydrogen fuel will actually do more harm. for Lake Maurepa’s basin.

The blue hydrogen energy plant is planned to be built and operated by Air Products and Chemicals, a multinational petrochemical company. The company says the plant will capture airborne carbon dioxide emissions created during production and put them safely underground – a process called carbon capture and storage.

“Sometimes I think people think you’re kind of bubbling in at the bottom of the lake,” said Simon Moore, vice president of investor relations, corporate relations and sustainability at Air Products. “You know, this is a mile below the earth’s surface, where the geological formation of the rock has this porous space, which simply absorbs CO2.”

Still, Glover is worried. “I’m not a scientist. I’m a mother who cares,” she said.

There are several other carbon capture and storage projects proposed or underway throughout the United States, including Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and California. Companies behind them claim that they can successfully remove carbon from the air to reduce pollution, and then safely transport and store the carbon underground – or do both.

In some cases, oil and gas companies are investing in this new technology to either help build new profit centers, such as hydrogen-producing plants, or extend the life of their fossil fuel plants.

Coal capture and storage projects have gained traction since Congress approved $ 3.5 billion for them last year. The Global CCS Institute, a think tank that seeks to promote these projects globally, called it “the single largest grant of money to CCS in the history of technology.”

In the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s leading researchers said that technologies for carbon capture and storage must be part of the range of solutions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change. But they said solar and wind energy and electricity storage are improving faster than carbon capture and storage.

Opponents of carbon capture and storage argue that the technology is untested and has been less effective than alternatives such as solar and wind in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector.

“Coal capture is neither feasible nor feasible,” said Basav Sen, director of climate policy at the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, DC. “It’s just an excuse for the fossil fuel industry to continue to function as it does.”

A late 2020 study by researchers from the University of California, San Diego, found that over 80% of 39 projects that have attempted to commercialize carbon capture and storage ended in failure. The study mentioned lack of technical readiness as a top factor

But even if the technology was successfully implemented, several critics say the projects would pose a threat to public health in communities that have long been plagued by air and water pollution.

First, they said that any project that extends the life of an existing industrial plant entails further environmental damage by extending the time it pollutes a community, as the IPCC report confirms.

Second, they noted that because carbon capture would require more energy to power the equipment, it would result in more air pollution because the technology could only capture a portion of the carbon emitted by a plant.

Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a pioneer in carbon capture and storage technology, disputed this in an interview with the Associated Press. But he acknowledged that there was a risk in transporting and storing coal.

In 2020, a compressed carbon dioxide pipeline broke in the city of Satartia, Mississippi, causing more than 40 people to be hospitalized and more than 300 to be evacuated. The incident is cited by experts, advocates and residents living near proposed coal capture and storage projects to illustrate the potential dangers of transporting coal over long distances.

Injecting coal underground for storage can end up polluting aquifers, according to Nikki Reisch, director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law.

More than 500 environmental organizations, including the Legal Center, signed an open letter published in the Washington Post in July 2021, calling carbon capture and storage a “false solution.”

In response, the Carbon Capture Coalition, which advocates technology, released its own letter in August with over 100 signatories. They pressured Congress to include investment in carbon capture and storage in all future legislation.

Matt Fry, a state and regional policy chief at the Great Plains Institute, a climate and energy think tank in Minneapolis, told the AP that technology is crucial to meeting mid-century climate goals.

“The potential for a completely carbon-free, electrified world is a reality,” Fry said. “But we will have to go over to get there. And it will require carbon sequestration to deal with these emissions.”

At the point of capture, Herzog said, technology poses a “very low” threat to public health. “There is always a risk of some mishaps,” he added, “but on the overall scale of chemical plants, (the technology) is quite benign.”

Still, residents close to proposed projects are worried.

In California’s Central Valley Agricultural Region, Chevron, Microsoft and Schlumberger New Energy are working together to build a plant in the town of Mendota that will generate energy by converting agricultural waste into carbon monoxide and hydrogen and then mixing it with oxygen to generate electricity with the promise of capturing 99% of the carbon from the process.

Chevron said it plans to inject coal “underground into nearby deep geological formations.”

This is worrying for Nayamin Martinez, who lives in the valley and heads the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “It worries us a lot,” she said. “What does this mean for the risk of contamination of drinking water?”

Creighton Welch, a spokesman for Chevron, said the process they plan to use is safe. “CO2 capture, injection and storage is not a new technology and has been conducted safely for decades,” Welch said.

Back in Louisiana, Glover and other residents also fear that carbon capture technology will affect the water. The carbon dioxide captured at the Air Products and Chemicals facility will be stored in places such as under Lake Maurepas, an important wetland.

Kim Coates, who lives on the northeast side of the lake, said there is a buffer between the Gulf of Mexico and its inhabitants. But she said she has seen generations of destruction of that ecosystem through industrial development and, more recently, hurricanes and tropical storms.

Now Coates fears more of the same if coal is stored under the lake. “We have seen the destruction over time without anyone looking forward to what will happen in the future,” she said.


Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.

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