GHG Monitor Vol. 1 No. 3
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January 20, 2017

Experts: CCUS has Future in Trump’s America Regardless of Climate Change Skepticism

By Abby Harvey
Donald Trump President-elect portrait

The potential for carbon capture and storage to boost domestic energy production bodes well for the technology’s development under the administration of President Donald Trump, according to experts in the field.

“It’s reasonable to be optimistic that we’ll see support for carbon capture because using manmade carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery (CO2-EOR) boosts domestic energy production while reducing emissions and creating skilled jobs at the same time,” Fatima Maria Ahmad, a solutions fellow at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told GHG Weekly on Wednesday via email.

Trump, who becomes the nation’s 45th president today, stated several times throughout his campaign that he would bring the coal industry back and that he “loves clean coal.” The new president never used the term carbon capture and storage specifically, but it can be assumed that he was referring to technology to reduce pollution from coal-fired power plants, including CCS.

While Trump has said he supports clean coal, recent media reports suggest otherwise. According to the reports, the Trump administration is planning a budget based on suggestions from the Heritage Foundation, which included scrapping the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy.

However, the president has also been a vocal denier of climate change. On Twitter, he has referred to climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and as “bullshit,” calling into question his desire to reduce carbon emissions. He also pledged during the campaign to “cancel” the Paris Agreement, the first global climate change accord, though later appeared to reconsider his position.

Trump’s climate change denial might not be a nail in the coffin of clean energy and CCS development in the U.S., however, according to Jeffrey Bobeck, senior adviser for policy and regulatory affairs with the Global CCS Institute. “There needs to be realization that regardless of one’s viewpoint on the Paris Agreement that the world is going toward a low carbon economy. CCS is absolutely going to be a part of that in the rest of the world and the United States needs to continue its leadership,” Bobeck said in a telephone interview.

Bobeck also noted that Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, served until his nomination as CEO of oil giant ExxonMobil, a strong supporter of CCS technology development. Exxon recently teamed up with FuelCell Energy to test CCS technology.

Trump’s energy emphasizes putting “America first.” He will declare American energy dominance a strategic economic and foreign policy goal for the nation, with an end target of national energy independence, according to the plan. Much of his program relies on opening up public lands to drilling and mining, but EOR also holds the promise of increasing domestic oil output by enabling production from wells considered depleted under traditional drilling operations.

The selection of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to serve as secretary of energy might also be a good sign for CCS development, according to Bobeck. “I think one thing you can be very certain of is that Governor Perry understands energy markets, and not just fossil fuel markets. He was actually a great proponent of wind energy during his time in office and that led to great growth in the wind power market in Texas. I think if he looks at that and takes a similar approach to CCS … certainly it will be a great thing for CCS,” Bobeck said, noting that at the time of the interview Perry had not indicated he would take such an approach at DOE.

Perry served as Texas governor from 2000-2015, a time of significant EOR activity in the state. “In many ways, Texas has been a leader in clean energy development.  Wind, solar, and CO2-EOR have all done well in Texas,” Ahmad said. “It would be great to see that Texas experience with innovative clean energy projects and policy reflected at the Federal level.”

Texas is also home to the nation’s first operational commercial-scale CCS project on a coal-fired power plant. The Petra Nova facility, a joint venture of NRG Energy and JX Nippon Oil & Energy, reached full operation last week. Construction began in 2014, while Perry was still serving as governor. “During his tenure as governor, Rick Perry was very supportive of the development of carbon capture and sequestration through enhanced oil recovery.  Working with his state agencies, he helped develop, support and signed into law legislation to make projects like Petra Nova more economically feasible,” NRG spokesman David Knox told GHG Weekly earlier this month.

Perry went before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday for his confirmation hearing.

The Obama administration left Trump a clean coal program in a state of flux. While the Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Coal and Carbon Management has long focused on CCS as a coal technology, in the last year it has begun to increase exploration into CCS for natural gas, industrial processes, and even the capture of CO2 from ambient air.

It’s too soon to tell what Trump’s administration will do with the program, according to Bobeck and Ahmad, but they said it would be well advised to continue exploring these new areas of development. “Of the Department of Energy’s roles, science is one of the most important and also one of the ones that has the broadest bipartisan support and I think you will … see support from the new administration for the research aspect,” Bobeck said.

Ahmad noted that CO2 captured from industrial sources can be used in EOR just as CO2 captured from coal-fired power plants, so the incentive to pursue the technology remains. “Capturing carbon emissions from industrial sources like steel and cement plants and refineries for use in CO2-EOR is another great example of how we can reduce emissions while boosting domestic energy production and creating skilled jobs,” she said.


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