The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued the first draft permits for injecting and storing carbon dioxide in underground rock formations, which could advance carbon capture and sequestration efforts.
EPA promotes carbon capture and sequestration for its expected ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while enabling low-carbon electricity generation from power plants. The process entails capturing and compressing carbon emissions at their source, piping the gas to injection wells, and injecting the gas into geologically stable rock formations capable of holding the gas for long periods of time.
Under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EPA regulates most injections of waste and other materials into the ground. EPA has developed a series of programs to manage such injections, including a "Class VI" geologic sequestration program.
While oil producers have long injected carbon dioxide into their wells to enhance oil recovery, EPA has not previously issued any permits under its Class VI program. This lack of Class VI activity is largely because carbon capture and sequestration in the U.S. remains in its infancy, but some industry observers have expressed concerns that EPA's regulatory process is too restrictive to allow the technology to flourish. The record of permit applications shows some support for these concerns: for example, Christian County Generation, LLC of Taylorville, IL withdrew its applications for two Class VI sequestration wells for the Taylorville Energy Center on July 9, 2013, and Archer Daniels Midland's applications for Class VI permits for two injection wells to store carbon emissions from its Decatur, Illinois agricultural products and biofuel production facility have remained pending since 2011.
Carbon capture and sequestration's future may be brightening, as on March 31, 2014, EPA issued four draft Class VI permits
to FutureGen Industrial Alliance, Inc.
for its proposed FutureGen 2.0 project. The Alliance is a non-profit organization whose membership includes major coal producers, coal users, and coal equipment suppliers
, including Alpha Natural Resources, AngloAmerican, JoyGlobal Inc., Peabody Energy, and Xstrata Coal Pty. Limited. The FutureGen 2.0 project is designed to capture over 90 percent of the carbon emissions from a 168 megawatt power plant in Meredosia, Illinois, and to inject them into four nearby wells for deep geologic sequestration.
EPA's draft permits now face a public hearing on May 7 and public comments through May 15.