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Why Storing Carbon Dioxide Underground Can Not Work

written by: Niki Fears•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 5/20/2011

The last part of the series looking at the clean coal myth, showing why there is no such thing as clean coal by examining the dangers and problems with storing deadly carbon dioxide gas underground.

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    In the first part of our series on the clean coal myth, we looked at what exactly is meant by the term clean coal and what technologies or methods are being used in the industry that has been coined “clean coal”. In this final part of the series, we take a look at a key element of that process which involves the storing of CO2 to see what the environmental and safety issues are with the cap and store method utilized by so called clean coal plants.

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    What Will So Called Clean Coal Plants Do With the CO2 Emissions?

    Clean coal proponents claim that capping some of the emissions of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from coal burning plants and storing that hazardous greenhouse gas underground will make coal clean. As we have already discussed, this simply is not true. Even with this technology a dangerous amount of CO2 will still be put into the atmosphere polluting the air and worsening the greenhouse effect. But in addition to this, the proposal of underground storage of CO2 presents several other problems and hazards involved in both the actual capture and transport of this deadly gas into the underground storage areas as well as the storage itself.

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    Can You Safely Pump Carbon Dioxide Underground?

    First, we will look at the process of actually pumping Carbon Dioxide underground. The industry proposes that this gas should be stored in underground coal seams. However, pumping the gas into these coal seams presents a variety of dangers. Many of these areas have concentrations of methane gas, another lethal and extremely volatile greenhouse gas. The pumping of Carbon Dioxide into these seams can release the deadly methane into the area contaminating the atmosphere and proposing substantial risk to humans and other life around the areas.

    This also runs the risk of leaking not only toxic gas but dangerous metals and other elements that may exist in the coal seams that can contaminate not only the air but the soil and ground water sources as well. Since the majority of drinking water available for humans comes from ground water sources which are already being threatened this could be a serious problem.

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    Is Complete Containment of CO2 Gas Possible?

    Natural Leaking

    Even if the carbon dioxide could be transported and installed in the underground seams safely, there is then the matter of the storage itself. It is naïve, perhaps even a bit arrogant and ridiculous, to believe that we can honestly store a gas underground without any leakage. Even a very subtle slow leak which is bound to occur with any storage method, will still negate any supposed benefits that the idea of storing CO2 proposed in the first place. However, this leakage would not only present the standard problems of CO2 emissions in relation to global warming, but the deadly gas would also threaten humans and other animal life and plant life in the areas where the leaks occurred. Gas will naturally leak from any surface, that is simply how it works, so storage of the CO2 is merely shifting the problem from the plant creating the gas to the storage area.

    Mammoth Mountain:

    Mammoth Mountain, in California, has taught us this lesson. Although plants in the normal “breath” cycle absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the air, they can still be affected by the gas when it leaks into the soil from underground, which literally begins to suffocate the roots of trees and other plants such as in the case of Mammoth Mountain. The leaks in Mammoth Mountain were also responsible for lethal build ups of carbon dioxide in poorly ventilated buildings. Since carbon dioxide is an invisible and odorless gas it can often become quite deadly before anyone is even aware that there was a problem with the leak in the first place.

    Seismic Activity:

    You then have the problem of worrying about seismic activity and geological processes. Something we can neither control, prevent, or accurately predict. Large seismic disturbances, or even smaller scaled activity could potentially release large quantities of deadly CO2 gas, poisoning water supplies, endangering the lives of people in near by communities, and wreaking havoc on the environment.

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    Conclusion: Coal Is Not Clean!

    When all of the special interest groups want to tell the world about how safe and clean coal is, they conveniently leave out the amount of CO2 that even the so called clean coal puts into our air, the fact that it is one of the leading causes of global warming, or that thousands of miners have died in cave ins, methane explosions, and health related illnesses due to coal which continues to endanger the healths of everyone living in coal mining towns and communities where coal burning facilities are used. They also leave out the fact that truly storing the gas underground without consequence with full containment is not even possible in the first place.

    With all of the evidence out there about coal and the clean coal initiative, some of which we have looked at in this series, it is clear that that is nothing clean about coal. And the snake oil salesmen who are trying to get the public to buy this myth are merely risking your lives and the health of our environment in order to line their own pockets with even more of your hard earned dollars. Simply put, clean coal does not exist.

The "Clean Coal" Myth-Looking at the Dirty Business of Coal

Is coal really the clean abundant energy source that the propaganda says that it is? This three part series will take a look at coal, the "clean coal" techniques, and the dangers that make coal a dirty business.
  1. The Clean Coal Myth: Part One- What is Coal and How Is it “Clean”?
  2. Health Issues for Coal Miners and In Some Cases - Death
  3. Why Storing Carbon Dioxide Underground Can Not Work