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In Pennsylvania, landowners could be forced to have carbon dioxide buried under their properties

Amid a divided Legislature, Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans are finding rare common ground in a bill designed to usher in a new industry for capturing climate-changing carbon dioxide and burying it underground.

Among other provisions, Senate Bill 831 would create an enforcement structure for carbon capture within the state, set a low bar for obtaining consent from landowners near sites where carbon is injected into the ground and, in some cases, shield the fossil fuel industry from seismic monitoring – i.e. say: watch out for earthquakes, a known risk.

The bill is sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw, a Republican who represents north-central Pennsylvania personal ties to the fossil fuel industry, the Republican-controlled Senate approved in April by a 30-20 vote. It now moves to the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

But a coalition of environmental groups said the bill is fraught with problems. Landowners could be left in the dark if collected carbon is pumped into the ground near their properties, they said. Furthermore, carbon dioxide could eventually leak into the atmosphere, posing a risk to both the environment and human health Satartia, Mississippia pipeline carrying carbon dioxide ruptured, sending 49 people to the hospital, who complained of labored breathing, stomach upset and mental confusion.

“Our concerns about this were quite high,” said Jen Quinn, legislative and political director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

When introducing the legislation, Yaw threw the bill as a proposal to direct state regulators to take over responsibility for the carbon dioxide injection well permitting process from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In reality, the bill, as written, would go much further than that. It would allow operators to inject carbon dioxide into underground geological formations with the consent of just 60% of nearby landowners. It would allow operators to apply for a liability waiver for these wells from the state after 10 years of a well’s completion. And it would allow operators to opt out of seismic monitoring of the storage fields where the carbon dioxide was pumped into the Earth if they could prove the field does not “pose a significant risk.”

Several of these provisions, Quinn said, “set the bar very low.”

a report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank, has shown that no state sets the consent cap for landowners at less than 60%.

The report also argues that waiving operators’ liability for their carbon storage fields will lead to negligence: operators who know they will not be held responsible for any mess in the long term will have no incentive to operate cleanly, the report says . .

Capital & Main reached out to Senator Yaw, author of SB 831, and did not hear back at time of publication. However, he said in a press release that the bill is a “proactive step” in growing the state’s carbon capture industry.

Environmentalists have long been divided over carbon capture and sequestration, known as CCS. The practice of collecting carbon dioxide from power plants and storing it underground has been criticized as costly, dangerous and largely unproven. While some say For many it is a useful tool to tackle the climate crisis, others call CCS a tool boondoggle that could provide a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry, which has done just that collected all around the technology.

Environmentalists worry that the state’s geology in Pennsylvania, where oil and gas drilling has occurred for centuries, could be treacherous. “This idea that they’re going to go all-in on carbon capture and try to inject this stuff into the same places where it looks like Swiss cheese … is just stupid,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of the Better Path Coalition. , a staunch opponent of burying carbon in the earth.

The state is spotted with orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, including many that are likely yet to be located. The wells create underground pathways that allow gases to travel and potentially seep into waterways or leak into the atmosphere, undoing the progress of capturing the carbon in the first place. a 2009 report The state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said the state’s old oil and gas fields “could provide a leakage route for reservoir gases, including injected CO2.”

“The safest course of action would be to avoid the oldest of these oil fields,” the report said.

Feridun said she also expects to see an influx of carbon dioxide injection wells with a maze of pipelines to transport the carbon.

Because the bill would allow operators to obtain consent from only 60% of property owners atop an injection site, it would leave some landowners without a voice in the process, the southwestern Pennsylvania-based Center for Coalfield Justice warned in a online petition against the bill. The petition urges signatories to send a message to their representatives along the lines of: “If 40% of people in a carbon storage field don’t want carbon injected under their feet, how can the project also make progress.”

Ethan Story, advocacy director at the Center for Coalfield Justice, believes few Pennsylvanians are aware of the bill and what it could mean for them. “Landowners, in addition to elected officials in some communities, are very ignorant and uneducated about this proposal,” he said. “The immediate response from a majority of community members with whom we spoke and presented this information was met with great hesitation.”

SB 831 has received a different response in the state Legislature, where it has earned — and sometimes lost — votes from both Democrats and Republicans.

Positive votes in the Senate came from a handful of Democrats, including Secretary of State Jay Costa of Pittsburgh and Christine Tartaglione of Philadelphia. Those opposed to the bill included Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican from south-central Pennsylvania who made headlines in 2022 with a failed gubernatorial campaign and his full embrace of several tough policies, including a tough one. pro-fossil fuel position.

Carbon capture “to some extent cuts across what we would probably classify as traditional ideological divisions,” says Sean O’Leary, a senior energy and petrochemicals researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

One of the most crucial expressions of support for carbon capture in the state came from Governor Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, ran on one all-of-the-above strategy for tackling the climate crisis. He has now thrown his support behind the technology as the state pursues federal funding for hydrogen hubs. Carbon capture was also recently included in two of the governor’s plans propose climate.

Carbon capture is critical to Pennsylvania’s energy future,” Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder told Capital & Main. “We are pleased to see that a bipartisan group of senators agree with the governor that we must invest in carbon capture and sequestration.

“The Administration looks forward to continuing to work with leaders of both parties to ensure that the bipartisan legislation provides appropriate environmental, public health and safety protections as it moves through the legislative process,” Bonder added .

Shapiro’s support for carbon capture could be the key to getting SB 831 across the goal line in the Democratic-controlled State House, despite warnings from environmentalists. It also has the support of the Pennsylvania State Building & Construction Trades Council, which makes campaign contributions to members on both sides of the aisle and those supported both fossil fuels and sustainable projects.

The bill is currently before the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, where a handful of simpler climate bills – including An that would improve school districts’ access to solar energy and another that would legalize community solar projects across the Commonwealth — have advanced with unanimous support before winning votes on both sides of the aisle on the full floor.

Capital & Main reached out to Democratic Rep. Rob Matzie, chairman of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, for comment on the bill. Matzie did not respond before publication time. In the past, he has defended bills that turned out to be a boon for fossil fuels, among other things An subsidizing a Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC plastics plant in southwestern Pennsylvania. When Shapiro released his carbon capture-infused energy plan, Matzie expressed his support“These proposals will create good energy jobs, promote opportunities for technologies that deliver energy while reducing their carbon footprint, and – most importantly – maintain our status as a net energy exporter,” he said in a press release in March.

It is an open question whether some of the provisions of SB 831 that are fueling environmentalists’ concerns will pass the House of Representatives. But Democratic Rep. Emily Kinkead has made an offer alternative proposal to the bill that includes provisions to protect communities long scarred by the waste of the oil and gas industry. It would also provide better protection for landowners located near carbon sequestration projects. Pittsburgh-based Kinkead issued a memo detailing the bill on March 25, but formal legislation has yet to be introduced.

Kinkead told Capital & Main she is not confident such legislation will pass, but she hopes it will at least provide a starting point for negotiations to amend SB 831.

“I think the purpose of my bill, at the very least, is to demonstrate that we don’t have to do it exactly as it’s outlined,” she said. “We can incorporate some better practices.”

If SB 831 passes the House without amendments, O’Leary, a senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, fears immediate impacts on residents. At least one company: based in Omaha, Nebraska Tenaska – is already planning carbon dioxide injection in the fracking-heavy southwestern part of Pennsylvania. Company for eyes utilizing 200,000 acres spanning Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for up to 20 injection wells that would extend horizontally underground up to 10,000 feet. There is one for this still unknown number of pipelines. Those who oppose burying carbon under their land, but are in the minority of 40%, will be out of luck.


Copyright Capital & Main 2024

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