NRCCE energy expert says W.Va. can sequester more than 17.6 billion metric tons of carbon in its oil and natural gas fields and deep coal seams

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1 October 2010 – by Walt Williams, West Virginia State Journal

Huntington, W.Va. – West Virginia is like a computer hard drive when it comes to burying carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants: It has plenty of storage capacity.


At least that’s the view of Richard Bajura, director of the National Research Center for Coal and Energy at West Virginia University. Using geologic data gathered by a host of agencies, he said the state could sequester more than 17.6 billion metric tons of carbon between its oil fields, natural gas fields and deep coal seams, and that’s not counting the deep saline aquifers that inflate those figures dramatically.

“West Virginia has a large carbon storage potential,” he told attendees at the third annual Science, Technology and Research Symposium at Marshall University Sept. 27.

Bajura was one of three panelists who took part in a forum about the state’s energy future on the first day of the two-day symposium. The picture panelists painted was an optimistic one based on the assumption that carbon capture and storage technology would prove both economically and technologically feasible.

CCS – also known as carbon sequestration – is a catchall term for technology that removes carbon dioxide from power plant emissions and buries it underground so it won’t contribute to global warming. It is seen as the only way the nation could continue to burn coal on a large scale if the U.S. adopts strict limits on CO2 emissions.

The technology has its share of critics, who point out it is still years – if not decades – away from widespread use. CCS currently is cost-prohibitive at the scale needed to sequester the emissions from good-sized power plant. It consumes a lot of energy. Researchers still can’t say with great certainty that carbon pumped into the ground will stay there or if it will leak out.

Researchers are studying ways to bring down the cost and ensure the carbon will remain in the ground once buried there.

As far as cost, Bajura noted the gas could be used to extract oil and natural gas from geologic formations by pumping it into the ground and forcing the energy resources out. Such oil and gas recovery results in a profit for carbon producers, which are paid for the carbon they provide.

A test project in Marshall County is studying the feasibility of coalbed methane extraction, according to Bajura. Some 20,000 tons of CO2 will be pumped into the ground while the site is monitored for methane extraction and carbon leaks.

While enhanced oil recovery and other extraction techniques may show promise in the short term, many experts believe the cost of CCS must be lowered if it is to prove practical in the long term.

All the panelists said coal would remain one of the leading sources of energy for the world for the next few decades. Joseph Kozuch, interim director of WVU’s Advanced Energy Initiative and the forum moderator, noted worldwide fossil fuel consumption was expected to slightly increase by 2030.

“We don’t expect that to be released into the atmosphere,” he said about CO2 emissions from coal. “We expect technology programs to be in place to control that.”

State researchers are hedging their bets on CCS because coal remains a significant part of the West Virginia’s economy. Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, pointed out that two-thirds of the energy produced in West Virginia was exported out of state.

But coal is not the only energy producer in the state. Patrick Mann, WVU professor emeritus of economics and chairman of the West Virginia Wind Working Group, said studies have estimated the state’s wind power generation capacity between 1,883 MW and 3,800 MW.

While clean, wind power is not without its drawbacks. Concerns range from windmills destroying viewsheds to killing birds and bats. But Mann said the biggest thing holding wind power back from becoming a major power source is the lack of quality lines to transmit the energy.

“One of the problems is the transmission,” he said. “We have to build the transmission for that to happen.”