Senate Panel Keeps Carbon Capture & Sequestration Bill Alive

By Published On: April 20, 2012

The Senate Environmental Quality Committee advanced legislation aimed at establishing a regulatory system for carbon capture and sequestration plants in California by a 6-0 vote April 16. As a condition of approval, however, bill author Sen. Michael Rubio (D-East Bakersfield) agreed to substantively amend SB 1139 in the coming month. “I’m not sure we can expect a good result from regulation,” said panel chair Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), unless the bill outlines goals for what the rules should achieve. Simitian noted that the procedural agreement will keep the bill alive for potential enactment this year. Under the agreement between Rubio and the committee, the legislation advances to the Senate Rules Committee and then to the Senate floor, where it is to be amended. Then it’s to be re-referred to the Environmental Quality and Natural Resources & Water Committees for further work. As now drafted, the measure assigns three different agencies to develop regulations for various aspects of carbon capture and geological sequestration. It would put the state Fire Marshal in charge of pipelines that carry carbon dioxide from any power plant that captures the greenhouse gas to geological storage sites. It would put the Division of Oil, Gas, & Geothermal Resources in charge of regulating the injection of the CO2 underground when it’s done in conjunction with enhanced oil recovery. It further calls on the California Air Resources Board to develop a methodology for determining how much emissions reduction credit should be granted for carbon capture and storage operations, particularly when the greenhouse gas is substituted for injecting steam as a way to stimulate oil production by pressurizing old petroleum fields. Those rules would be due by Jan. 1, 2016, under an Environmental Quality Committee amendment. The bill is of immediate concern to the Hydrogen Energy California Project, slated for Kern County. That facility would feed the grid with 288 MW of power produced by gasifying coal and petroleum coke and burning the resulting hydrogen in turbines. CO2 emissions would be captured and piped to injection wells in the Elk Hills oil field to bolster petroleum production. SCS Energy, the project developer, hopes to build the facility by 2016. The Sierra Club opposes Rubio’s measure, though it did not have a representative testify at the hearing. The Club reasons, according to a committee staff report, that using captured CO2 from plants like Hydrogen Energy California to force oil out of the ground won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a net basis, since without the carbon storage operation the oil ultimately would not be produced and burned. However, Rubio indicated companies would just continue to produce the oil by making and injecting steam so the petroleum still would be burned anyway. In reality, he maintained, the project would be a “win-win for the environment” because it would eliminate the current practice of burning natural gas to turn water into steam to inject into the wells. Spokespersons for the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Fund endorsed the lawmaker’s bill. California Carbon Capture & Storage Coalition executive director Pete Montgomery backed the bill too, saying that carbon capture and storage plants ultimately will be needed for the state to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

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