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Friday, July 5, 2013

IEA says next seven years are "critical" for CCS

The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the next seven years are “critical” to the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the ability of governments to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius.

A new IEA report - Technology Roadmap: Carbon Capture and Storage - says that “urgent” and “decisive actions” from governments are needed now to move “deployment of CCS beyond the demonstration phase.”

IEA has been a vocal advocate for the deployment of CCS technology. A report released last year by the organization highlighted the glacial pace of progress on CCS R&D and large-scale projects, and in April, IEA issued a “wake-up call” on clean energy development, including CCS.

Maria van der Hoeven, IEA Executive Director, writes in the Roadmap's Foreword:
It is clear that the world needs to dramatically reduce its energy-related CO2 emissions in the coming decades… 
After many years of research, development, and valuable but rather limited practical experience, we now need to shift to a higher gear in developing CCS into a true energy option, to be deployed in large scale. It is not enough to only see CCS in long term energy scenarios as a solution that happens some time in a distant future. Instead, we must get to its true development right here and now. It is critical that governments, industry, the research community and financiers work together to ensure the broad introduction of CCS by 2020, making it part of a sustainable future… 
The Roadmap finds: 
  • With CO2 emissions rising, the urgency of CCS deployment is only increasing.
  • The individual component technologies required for capture, transport and storage are generally well understood and, in some cases, technologically mature.
  • Governments and industry must ensure that the incentive and regulatory frameworks are in place to deliver at least 30 operating CCS projects by 2020 across a range of processes and industrial sectors.
  • CCS must be applied to electricity generation as well as industrial processes – iron, steel, cement, and chemical production.
  • This decade is critical for moving deployment of CCS beyond the demonstration phase if there is any hope of limiting long term global average temperature increase to 2 °C.

The report describes seven key but “realistic” actions that will require “serious dedication by governments and industry” in the next seven years to lay the foundation for scaled-up CCS deployment: 
  1. Introduce financial support mechanisms for demonstration and early deployment of CCS to drive private financing of projects, such as feed-in tariffs, investment/production tax credits,  portfolio standards, capital grants, and public-private partnerships.
  2. Implement policies that encourage storage exploration, characterization and development for CCS projects.
  3. Develop national laws and regulations that require new-build, base-load, fossil-fuel power generation capacity to be CCS-ready.
  4. Prove capture systems at pilot scale in industrial applications where CO2 capture has not yet been demonstrated.
  5. Significantly increase efforts to improve understanding among the public and stakeholders of CCS technology and the importance of its deployment.  
  6. Reduce the cost of electricity from power plants equipped with capture through continued technology development and use of highest possible efficiency power generation cycles. 
  7. Encourage efficient development of CO2  transport infrastructure by anticipating locations of future demand centers and future volumes of CO2.
CCS is viewed by many as a “dead man walking”.  Without the measures that IEA calls for, that view may prove to be right. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

EPA schedules 2 fracking study webinars for July 16

As part of its national study on the potential health and environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources, the U.S. EPA recently held technical workshops on Water Acquisition Modeling, and Well Construction/Operation and Subsurface Modeling. 

On Tuesday, July 16, 2013, EPA will host public webinars to provide a summary of each workshop:
  • Water Acquisition Modeling: Assessing Impacts Through Modeling and Other Means. 1:00 pm EDTTopics will include current and future trends and implications of water recycling/reuse, analysis of existing data on water acquisition, and the generalized approach to modeling effects of hydraulic fracturing water acquisition on water availability. Register here.
  • Well Construction/Operation and Subsurface Modeling. 3:00pm EDTTopics will include testing and monitoring techniques for well design, construction and operation; and the process of subsurface modeling of fluid migration to identify and understand potential impact on aquifers. Register here.
Workshop materials and presentations are available at this link.

UCS asks: how far can natgas take us?

The simple answer is - not far enough.  

This excellent post by Union of Concerned Scientistsdirector of energy research Steve Clemmer is a must-read.  It describes the potential of natural gas to combat global climate disruption - and its limits.

The post's bottom line is familiar to regular readers of this blog: natgas is an effective, but limited, near-term tool in the fight to save ourselves from the calamity of history's largest uncontrolled chemistry experiment - the carbonization of our atmosphere.  We must use it for all it's worth. That requires better information and stronger regulation of natgas production and transmission - now.  We must use natgas to facilitate an aggressive transition to renewable energy, and transform it into a near-zero carbon source of energy with CCS.  We must urgently enact and implement energy policies that ensure the timely expansion of  energy efficiency and renewable energy.   The U.S. must enact limits on carbon pollution that reduce emissions at least 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050.  And a price must be put on carbon.

Natural gas can serve as a bridge.  A hedge.  A near-term tool.  But it is not the answer - just as no single energy source or policy is the answer - to the complex problem of ensuring a habitable globe in the face of climate disruption. UCS' prescriptions are not surprising. They are not new. And they are achievable with the right leadership and national will. The only question is - will those prescriptions be heeded in time?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Use of nitrogen fracking "surging"

Readers of this blog know that I’m a proponent of driving waterless, chemical-free fracking to the shale gas development field, for environmental reasons that have strong business benefits.

With half of US shale wells drilled in water-stressed areas, and the industry experiencing periodic challenges of drought even in water-rich states like Pennsylvania, E&P companies are looking to use less water in fracking operations.  And more are indeed looking at using none at all.

Companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing in Kentucky and Tennessee are using nitrogen to frack wells.  This article describes that process in Tennessee’s Chattanooga shale as “a substitution that works especially well in shallow formations.”

The article cites leading nitrogen manufacturer (and Pennsylvania-based) Air Products and Chemicals as saying that the use of nitrogen is about 15% more expensive than hydraulic fracturing; however, “that difference is largely offset by an 11% increase in the estimated ultimate recovery of natural gas.”

The article says that:  "Further, amid spreading drought conditions across much of the U.S., along with increasing requirements that drillers treat, recycle, and reuse flowback water, the use of nitrogen in fracking is surging.”

The article is worth quoting at length:
Air Products notes that the proportion of the nitrogen used depends on a several factors, including the well's depth:
  • Nitrogen gas fracking is used in shallower formations -- typically less than 5,000 feet deep -- that are water sensitive. Since nitrogen is a poor proppant carrier, it's ideal for use in brittle shale with natural fractures that tend to stay self-propped after they've been hit by pressure pumping.
  • Nitrogen foam uses 53% to 95% nitrogen, with the remainder consisting of water. Given the ability to create this combination, fluid viscosity can be adjusted as need, and the volume of additives used is reduced by the percentage of nitrogen included. The result for operators is both environmental and financial benefits.
  • Nitrogen-energized fracking involves the inclusion of the gas at rates below 53% of the total. Given its increased liquids content, this combination can be used in formations with depths up to 8,000 feet.
The benefits of nitrogenous fracturing in times of increasing water scarcity are hardly inconsequential. For instance, whereas in recent years farmers in some parts of Colorado forked over from $9 to $100 for an acre foot of water to cities with excess supplies, energy companies are now paying $1,200 to $2,900 per acre foot.
Many – if not most - of E&P companies’ costs and risks are tied to the use of water.  Shale plays in nations like China, Australia, and South Africa are facing steep challenges due to a significant degree to a lack of water.  And the global water cycle is increasingly disrupted as the planet warms.  As I’ve argued, adding all of this up suggests a strong and growing business case for the wider use of - and perhaps conversion to - waterless fracking technologies – nitrogen, CO2, propane, propane another way, cryogenically processed methane, propellant-based, maybe exothermic fracking – and other technologies in development.  Regulators should encourage - and be ready for - this shift.