Coal is the largest source of electricity, not just in Pennsylvania and the U.S., but in the world. When burned, coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel. C-O-2 is thought to cause climate change with rising sea levels, violent storms and drought.
But renewable energy sources only provide about 10% of demand. So, the federal government is investing heavily in a process that burns coal but reduces C-O-2 emissions.
Scientists say the earth must reduce CO2 emissions 50 to 80 percent by mid-century.
Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) captures carbon dioxide before it's emitted, compresses it into a liquid and pipes it underground for sequestration below layers of cap rock.
Sean Plasynski, a researcher at the Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory ( in Pittsburgh's South Hills says carbon capture and sequestration is already a proven technology.
Since 2000, says Plasynski, the Weyburn EOR project in Canada has sequestered millions of tons of carbon dioxide, and since 1996 Norway has sequestered millions of tons in the Sleipner field under the floor of the North Sea.
The NETL says we'll run out of coal before we run out of underground storage sites. they're monitored for leakage.
Carbon Dioxide is non-toxic in small concentrations--it's less than 1% of the air we breathe. but in 1984 and 1986 in Cameroon huge clouds of CO2 escaped from volcanic lakes, displacing lighter oxygen and suffocating thousands of people and animals before it dispersed.
On Mammoth Mountain in California, a high volume of CO2, also of volcanic origin, is coming up through the soil, suffocating plant life, whose roots need oxygen.
But a NETL fact sheet concludes, quote, "the risk of large, catastrophic releases of co2...are virtually non-existent for geologic sequestration."
There's disagreement among environmental groups when it comes to carbon capture and sequestration. Randy Francisco of the Sierra Club in Pittsburgh says it is risky and prolongs the use of a fossil fuel and instead money should be invested in alternative energy.
However, George Peridas, a scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council Climate Center, on the other hand, says coal is not going away anytime soon, so let's get on with carbon capture and sequestration.
Right now there's a carbon capture and sequestration project underway at a coal-fired power plant in New Haven, West Virginia owned by the American Electric Power Company--the country's largest consumer of coal and largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
The scale is small, capturing only 1.8% of co2 emitted at the plant but there are plans to expand.
The House passed an energy bill a year ago, which includes a cap on carbon and a $60 billion investment in CCS. The Senate has not yet voted on a bill, so carbon emissions are not regulated in this country. However, the EPA has indicated it might regulate carbon if Congress doesn't act.
A task force established by President Obama will report in August about how to get 5-10 carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects underway by 2016 and how to achieve widespread use in 10 years.
Listen to DUQ’s Charlee Song report on Carbon Capture and Sequestration