Carbon-Capture Projects Are Taking Off. Here’s How They Stash the Greenhouse Gas

By Eric Nilier

The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, 2022


Sixty-five miles off the coastal Norwegian city of Bergen, a drilling rig is punching through layers of mud and rock below the North Sea. The energy firms behind the rig aren’t prospecting for oil or gas. They are searching for a place to stash vast amounts of the greenhouse gases emitted by industrial facilities across Europe.

The Northern Lights project—a $2.6 billion joint venture of Shell PLC, TotalEnergies SE, Equinor ASA and the Norwegian government—is one of almost 200 carbon-sequestration projects now in operation or in development around the world, according to the Global CCS Institute, a think tank that promotes carbon capture. When completed in 2024, Northern Lights will be the world’s biggest effort to sequester, or store, carbon dioxide underground.

These projects aim to effectively reverse the impact of fossil-fuel combustion by putting carbon dioxide back into the ground. The greenhouse gas gets pulled from the open air and from industrial facilities that produce electricity, steel, aluminum or cement. If the project is designed and built properly, geologists say, the carbon dioxide can be stored safely for generations.

“We are actually using backwards the same mechanism that has kept oil and gas underground for millions of years,” said Cristel Lambton, technical director of Northern Lights. “That’s where we know it is safe.”

Despite the industry’s 25-year record of safe underground storage, such an experiment has never been conducted before on such a massive scale. The risk is that the infrastructure of wells and pipelines eventually leaks, allowing the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, which scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say has warmed the planet nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, needs to decrease if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Initiatives like Northern Lights aim to lock away industrial emissions of carbon dioxide before they reach the atmosphere. Others use giant fans to suck in outside air and filter out carbon dioxide, a process known as direct air capture. There are also experimental efforts to use the ocean as a massive carbon-dioxide sink by altering its chemistry. The ventures now under way are showing which technologies and geologic formations are most reliable.

“We want the carbon storage to be permanent, but we want to provide confidence to investors, regulators and other stakeholders,” said Dr. Susan Hovorka, senior research scientist at the Gulf Coast Carbon Center at the University of Texas, who has been researching sequestration methods for the past 24 years. “So we want to do surveillance that provides affirmation of the permanence.”

Read the full article in The Wall Street Journal.

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