Carbon Capture's Elusive Future

[Editor's note: This post from Sarah Forbes of WRI is the final piece in a three-part series that coincides with the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute's meeting this week in Pittsburgh. Part 1 and Part 2 are available at GreenBiz.com]

It was nearly a decade ago that I, along with other researchers at national labs and universities, first began exploring the regulatory barriers to carbon capture and storage (CCS). 

Looking back at our findings, it’s clear that there has been tremendous progress towards addressing these barriers as they were first described.

In the U.S., 21 states already have CCS regulations or incentives in place. Country-specific regulations are in force in the UK (based on the EU Directive for Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide) and Australia, and many countries are currently drafting their CCS regulations.

Progress for CCS

Comparing the details of the new regulations reveals a unified understanding of how to address many of the most important issues, such as protecting human health and the environment, and suggests real progress.

These important similarities include:

  • Siting requirements that address g eologic characteristics to ensure the integrity of the storage site,
  • Requiring that site-specific risk assessments be conducted and contingency plans be developed prior to injection,
  • Rigorous processes for establishing a monitoring area, based on simulation models and actual data collected during operation, and
  • Ensuring that the area for monitoring goes beyond the injected CO2 itself to encompass any areas of elevated pressure within the subsurface reservoir.


Next Steps

If CCS technology is going to be deployed to mitigate climate change, we have to establish the right procedures for long-term stewardship and community engagement. Currently, however, governments are addressing these two issues quite differently.

The approach to long-term stewardship varies by country, state/province, and in some cases by project. Project-specific government coverage for stewardship (including liability) was granted for the FutureGen project in the U.S. and for the Gorgon project in Australia. In addition, seven U.S. states have rules for post-closure stewardship, and many have established CCS trust funds for long-term monitoring and remediation. At the national level, many governments are building on the EU model whereby the responsibility for a site is transferred to an appropriate government authority only after the operator can demonstrate that the stored CO2 will not pose a threat to human health and the environment. (This aligns with the approach outlined in the widely-adopted CCS Guidelines).

Community engagement is often covered under environmental impact statement requirements, but unfortunately the existing rules are often not implemented uniformly. Regulators are now designing protocols for engagement and public participation around CCS projects.


Part of the challenge for implementing CCS regulations is that in most countries, responsibility for CCS falls under several different ministries or agencies.

To address this in the U.S., President Obama recently established an interagency CCS Task Force to develop a coordinated and comprehensive plan for expediting CCS deployment.

Another challenge most governments face is that many aspects of CCS are covered under existing rules and regulations, which must now be revised to effectively accommodate CCS. For example, the U.S. has an established program for managing injection of underground waste, but the unique properties of CO2 have prompted EPA to draft regulations that are specific to geologic CO2 storage.

Addressing climate change is not something any one country can do alone. Globally, we must establish a culture of cooperation if we are to accelerate the deployment and availability of new technologies like CCS. Our cooperation and capacity building needs to go beyond the technical details of research, development, and demonstration, and incorporate greater collaboration and knowledge-sharing on policy and regulatory issues.

The Global CCS Institute, along with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) regulators’ network is taking a leading role in establishing a platform for cooperation when designing CCS policies and regulatory options. Global cooperation is essential if CCS is to realize its potential as a responsible and effective option for climate mitigation.

Sarah M. Forbes has led the World Resources Institute's work on carbon doxide capture and storage since May 2008, including the stakeholder process that resulted in the publication of the Guidelines for Carbon Dioxide Capture, Transport and Storage, a robust set of technical guidelines for how to responsibly proceed with safe CCS projects.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Angie Torres.