COAL

Posted on October 8, 2019 by Donald Stever

My blog posts have, in the past, largely focused on this or that regulation or some legal development or other dealing with chemical regulation or environmental statutes or rules in general. This one is different.

I grew up in Pennsylvania coal country. Well, actually on the border between the coal mines on the Piedmont Plateau (CO2 precursors) and the big dairy farm (methane emitters) region in the wide valleys that stretched along the Allegheny Mountains. My father was a veterinarian. As a kid I was his unpaid assistant. One vivid childhood memory I have is of going down into a deep shaft coal mine with my father; I lay on my back in an electric rail car, traveling nearly a mile into the earth where my father was called to treat an injured mule. You see, mules pulled the coal cars from the active extraction shafts to the main mine shaft. Oh, and the mules were blind. They were blinded intentionally because (a) there was no light anyway and (b) they learned to know the labyrinth by senses other than sight. Then there was the coughing. The mules coughed. The miners coughed. All were covered with coal dust. My father returned to the mine from time to time. I demurred.

Which brings me to my point. When I retired from my full-time litigation-heavy law practice I started to read books, a pastime that I had largely been denied for lack of time during the fifty-odd years of environmental law practice. Not pulp novels. Mostly not “best sellers.” Nope. I read science-based books, many of which address the environment. Two of these dealt in part with the subject of coal.  Peter Brannen, in The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions, neatly explains the primary cause of the last five extinctions of nearly all life on Earth, discernable from analyses of geologic strata. The culprit? Carbon dioxide emitted by the combustion of coal (fossil vegetable matter accumulated over eons of time) caused by massive flows of volcanic magma which ignited enormous coal deposits, which in turn heated up the atmosphere, which in turn heated up and acidified the oceans. So, burning coal pushes carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which traps solar heat, heats up the earth and oceans and every complex living thing (or almost every living thing) dies.

Sound familiar? In his most recent book, Falter, Bill McKibben points to irrefutable scientific analyses concluding that human combustion of coal and its cousin oil, abetted by human agricultural emissions of methane, is on track to raise carbon dioxide levels in the  atmosphere to a concentration that is higher than the carbon dioxide levels that triggered all of the prior mass extinctions.

I have to ask: are the Trumps and the Wheelers and the McConnells and their counterparts in Asia and South America who simply deny the obvious consequences of their refusal to deal with the issue of runaway combustion of fossil carbon unable to read? Obviously, they can read, but I dare say that inability to read would at least give them an excuse for denying my three-year-old granddaughter a habitable planet on which to live.

Singer-songwriter and distinguished member of the New Hampshire Bar John Perrault perhaps says it best in his song, Carbon the Garden:

There is the Capitol floatin’ away

Congressmen wailing “it’s a mighty fine day”

Tell me, how long does it take to investigate

Oh, the oceans in the kitchen and the desert’s at the garden gate.

Song lyrics by John Perrault © 2013 John Perrault

The Future of Carbon Dioxide Capture and Geologic Sequestration (CCS) Discussed at International Conference

Posted on January 24, 2012 by David Flannery

I had the privilege to be a speaker at a CCS conference held at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC on January 19, 2012. The conference was hosted by the Global CCS Institute for the purpose of discussing the strategic directions expected to be undertaken in the development and deployment of the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide. Central to this issue is the national and international concern over climate change at a time when our nation’s energy supply is so closely tied to the use of fossil fuels.

In his keynote speech at the conference Charles McConnell of USDOE’s Office of Fossil Fuels offered the view that coal must be economically advantaged and environmentally sustainable. Much of the conference was dedicated to a review of the many CCS projects being undertaken around the world in an effort to demonstrate the feasibility of the technology.

A key component of the development of CCS is, of course, the cost of the technology and the opportunities that exist to offset those costs. One such opportunity is the use of capture carbon dioxide to enhance the production of oil (EOR). While many of the speakers at the conference recognized the early value of CCS/EOR projects, both Brad Page of the Global CCS Institute and Steve Winberg of Consol Energy pointed out that EOR capacity is only 20% of the ultimate capacity that will be needed to meet the President’s carbon dioxide reduction target. Other alternatives for the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide include depleted oil and gas reserves and greenfield deep saline formations.

My remarks at the conference were directed at the significant leadership being undertaken by the various states to address the legal and regulatory uncertainties associated with CCS activities. West Virginia is among those states where a legislatively mandated working group has recommended not only a comprehensive set of regulatory requirements, but also a liability transfer mechanism during the post operational phase of a project tied to the establishment of an operator generated trust fund. That working group has also recommended a comprehensive set of policies related to property issues including a determination that the use of pore space may be considered a public use to be authorized by permit.  Click here for the list of conference speakers.