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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Geologic carbon storage atlas released

On May 1, the U.S. Department of Energy and partners released the first-ever atlas mapping the potential carbon dioxide storage capacity in North America – capacity that has been estimated at 500 years’ worth of current emissions.

Identifying areas where carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and factories can be stored is part of the daunting challenge of allowing for the continued burning fossil fuels without catastrophic climate disruption.  But the atlas' identification of shale beds as potential storage resources illustrates yet another challenge.  As I have blogged previously, drilling theses shale beds for natural gas could preclude their future use as storage locations. 

Natural gas when burned for electricity production is 50% cleaner than coal when it comes to carbon emissions.  It thereby reduces carbon dioxide storage requirements by a similar amount, or, viewed another way, doubles the life of storage resources. But drilling for that gas also may render huge chunks of storage space unusable.

There are no easy solutions, and more scientific work on this potential conflict is needed.

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