One thing supporters of coal will be thankful for tomorrow is this week’s announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that it has finalized two rules governing the underground sequestration of carbon dioxide. Both rules are designed to support and facilitate the commercial development of safe, large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, perceived by many to be the best hope for the future use of coal.
The first rule creates a new "Class VI" injection well under EPA’s Underground Injection Control Program through the the Safe Drinking Water Act. Elements of the rule are based on the existing regulatory framework, but tailored to address the unique issues carbon dioxide can create, such as the fact that it floats and moves within subsurface formations, and corrodes its surroundings when combined with water. Although CCS has been used on a smaller scale for years, such as to facilitate enhanced recovery of oil, the large volumes that are anticipated to be injected as part of a full-scale deployment of the technology present different issues entirely.
The rule provides guidance on some, but not all, of the areas highlighted as in need of further support in the August report of the Interagency Task Force on CCS. For instance, the rule outlines characteristics for siting CCS wells, requirements for construction and operations, automatic shutoff systems. It also provides a recommended 50-year monitoring program post-injection as well as clarifying financial responsibility requirements for emergencies, site closure and cleanup. The rule also provides considerations for transitioning Class II permits for existing enhanced recovery wells to Class VI, based primarily on whether the primary purpose is assisting with the recovery of oil or long-term storage of the CO2 itself.
The second rule finalizes the requirements for CCS ventures under the mandatory greenhouse gas reporting rule (Subparts RR and UU of 40 CFR Part 98). The rule requires permit holders to create a plan to monitor, report and verify the amount of CO2 sequestered, using a mass-balance approach, and could lay the groundwork for those captured tons to become valuable offsets under future policies. The reporting requirement begins in 2011.