How can stakeholders ensure that carbon capture-and-storage technology will successfully deploy in the near future? Considering the current state of the economy, what steps should policymakers and regulators be taking to minimize investor uncertainty? During today's OnPoint, Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute and the lead author of WRI's new report outlining guidelines for carbon capture transport and storage, explains how the next Congress should address carbon capture and storage. Forbes also gives specific recommendations for policymakers, regulators and project developers in the CCS field.
Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at the World Resources Institute and the lead author of WRI's new report on "Guidelines for Carbon Capture Transport and Storage." Sarah, thanks for coming on the show.
Sarah Forbes: Thanks for having me.
Monica Trauzzi: Sarah, WRI's new report lays out specific recommendations for policymakers, regulators, project developers, all in the CCS field. And you pull together representatives from a variety of groups, different stakeholders ranging from the API to MIT to NRDC and they seemingly have very different opinions when it comes to anything relating to climate mitigation. How did you reach a consensus on this topic with all these varying opinions?
Sarah Forbes: That's a great question. The stakeholders worked together. We had many discussions. We shared drafts of the language. That said, the guidelines are published by WRI and they were not endorsed by the stakeholders. The stakeholders worked very hard and they worked together to come up with language that represented the views of the group as a whole, but individual stakeholders have a right to disagree with the specific language of any one guideline.
Monica Trauzzi: And the guidelines were predicated on some pretty strict principles and I'll just run through those because I think they're important because they're very often the issues that opponents to CCS have. And these would be that the guidelines need to protect human health, protect ecosystems, protect underground sources of drinking water and natural resources, ensure market confidence, which is huge right now, and facilitate cost-effective, timely deployment. So, is this report sort of, in a sense, ending the debate on carbon capture and storage if you're sort of able to meet all these guidelines and you're saying that these issues don't exist with these guidelines?
Sarah Forbes: I think that those issues are important and we used those guiding principles as a touchstone throughout developing the guidelines. They're important. We need to ensure that projects moving forward are operated responsibly. And the guidelines, what they do is they provide a benchmark for the people who need to make decisions about potential projects to use in evaluating a project.
Monica Trauzzi: So, does debate go on? After a policymaker reads this report, does the debate still happen?
Sarah Forbes: You know, that's a great question. I think that to some extent the debate will continue to happen. However, I think the guidelines are a huge step forward. I think the fact that we did engage such a diverse group and that we came out with these guidelines shows the confidence that folks have in the CCS research community, the business community, the environmental community, the academic community. We feel that we do know enough to move forward with the next stage of CCS demonstration.
Monica Trauzzi: And that would be a large-scale demonstration plant?
Sarah Forbes: It would be large, at-scale demonstrations demonstrating different capture technologies in different types of storage formations.
Monica Trauzzi: The argument that we constantly hear relating to CCS is that the technical knowledge exists, but what's really going to derail any future large projects are public acceptance issues and liability issues. And, from a liability standpoint, investors probably feel that it's a little risky to pour their capital into these projects. So how do you develop that level of certainty that investors need?
Sarah Forbes: I'd like to talk about public acceptance as well as about investors. From a public perception standpoint, the guidelines offer some confidence that you can do to CCS and protect human health and protect the ecosystems and we really outline how that can be done in a CCS operation. On the investment side, it's a tough time for investment decisions right now, but the goal of the guidelines is that a potential investor will be able to use the guidelines and think about a potential project that they need to make a decision about and use it to make those decisions and evaluate is that project being operated responsibly?
Monica Trauzzi: Give us some examples of the public acceptance issues and how to overcome those based on the guidelines.
Sarah Forbes: You know, the public is concerned about the risks and the guidelines offer some very detailed guidelines for risk assessment for the risks that a potential operator should evaluate, a risk communication plan for contingencies for risks that are identified. And I think that moving forward with a CCS project in such a way that risks are talked about, they're assessed and they're presented to the public in a communications plan, is something that's important for project operators and developers to consider moving forward.
Monica Trauzzi: You mentioned the importance of moving forward with a large-scale demonstration plant, that's what the report is calling for. Are you convinced that this is something that the government would support, keeping in mind what happened with FutureGen and the fact that they took this larger project and essentially broke it up into smaller projects?
Sarah Forbes: This is a tough time for federal budgets and I know that policymakers have a lot of competing interests for financial. Ultimately, climate change is a global problem. We need to think about demonstrations for CCS globally. And one of the things that I think we should be reaching towards is a global network of CCS demonstrations. They're talking about 10 to 12 demonstrations in Europe. Some of the European funded demonstrations will actually be in China and the U.S. is also moving forward with the restructured FutureGen program. I think that thinking globally and thinking about a network of projects that can be used to inform one another and facilitate technological learning is essential.
Monica Trauzzi: Is it possible to meet our carbon reduction goals without CCS?
Sarah Forbes: Credible analyses showed that renewables and energy efficiency, while those are really important things that we agree that we need to do, they're important parts to the climate solution, you can't get to the climate reduction goals that we're talking about with them alone. CCS is likely needed and, if we're going to make it work, we need to move forward on demonstrations.
Monica Trauzzi: So, bullet point for us what the next session of Congress should be focusing on in terms of carbon capture and storage and what sort of legislation needs to happen to propel this technology forward.
Sarah Forbes: Congress is increasingly talking about CCS incentives as part of climate and energy legislation. Incentives are obviously important, the financial aspect, the cost of the technology is a key barrier. One of the things that the guidelines talk about is this post-closure time frame. After an operator is able to demonstrate that they're done injecting, they've stopped, they've closed their wells, they demonstrate that the project is safe, that it no longer poses a risk to human health or the environment, the guidelines talk about the need for stewardship of that site through time and talk about an entity that would manage sites beyond the lifetime of a company.
Monica Trauzzi: One of the things we hear about a lot with carbon capture and storage is enhanced oil recovery, that the storage could help us achieve more oil recovery. Do you see those as two competing factors though since one would be producing a fossil fuel and then on the other hand, you're trying to reduce carbon through carbon capture and storage?
Sarah Forbes: That's a good question and one that comes up often. The opportunities for CCS through EOR, in the scope of the climate change problem and in the scope of available worldwide storage space, is very small. EOR opportunities offer a potential learning opportunity for measurement, monitoring, and verification tools for establishing protocols for CCS that will, hopefully, be applied to storage in saline formations as well. So I think EOR opportunities are important for learning, but they're also, in the scale of the climate change picture, they're limited and a small part of the ultimate solution.
Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. You had mentioned the financial crisis and how the economy may be impacting the way investors are spreading out their money. Assuming that this report was written before the credit crunch, would any of the guidelines change based on what we're seeing now in the markets and the current economic situation?
Sarah Forbes: I don't believe that they would. The guidelines do talk about the situation with escalating costs and about the uncertainty regarding our cost estimates for CCS technology. I think it's important to acknowledge that and, in the light of the financial crisis, cost is certainly an important consideration and will continue to be one moving forward.
Monica Trauzzi: OK, we'll end it there on that note. Thanks for coming on the show.
Sarah Forbes: Thank you.
Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.
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