JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press Writer BISMARCK, N.D.
The future of coal as an energy source depends on capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions and developing technology to do it cheaply, senators from North Dakota and Montana say. A federal Energy Department official says that goal could be reached within a dozen years. Technology already exists to capture the carbon dioxide given off by coal-fired power plants and inject them back to earth before they enter the atmosphere, but it's too expensive, said Scott Klara, who heads carbon sequestration projects for the Energy Department. The cost of electricity would increase as much as 80 percent using current sequestration technology, Klara said Wednesday, at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing held by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Jon Tester, D-Mont. The goal is to cut the cost to less than 30 percent, he said. "We could go out and do this today, but it would be cost prohibitive," he said in an interview. "We think all the hurdles will be resolved by 2020." Klara, who directs coal programs at the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, said some 70 carbon sequestration experiments are in the works nationwide. Carbon dioxide emissions are widely blamed for global warming. "The U.S. needs to lead on the issue of climate change," Tester said. North Dakota and Montana have enough coal reserves to power homes for hundreds of years, and those reserves can be used as a laboratory for clean coal technology, the senators said. Dorgan and Tester said more federal money is needed to speed research. Government and industry officials said regulations must be adopted for carbon sequestration, and they said the gas stored underground should not be viewed as a hazardous waste. Carbon dioxide can be injected underground or in depleted oil and gas reservoirs. The gas also can be pumped into the earth to force more oil or methane to the surface for processing. The Great Plains Synfuels Plant near Beulah, in central North Dakota, has been capturing CO2 since 2000. The carbon dioxide is piped 205 miles to oil fields in southern Saskatchewan, where it's pumped underground to force oil to the surface, said Gary Loop, a senior vice president of the Dakota Gasification Co., which operates the plant. Loop said the plant, which makes natural gas from coal, captures about 50 percent of its carbon dioxide output, and sells about 3 million tons of CO2 annually to increase oil production in Canada. "It is the largest carbon sequestration project in the world," he said. Bismarck-based Basin Electric Cooperative, Great Plains' owner has sought proposals for a project to capture carbon dioxide at its Antelope Valley Power Station, next to the synfuels plant. Loop said the cost to capture CO2 at the coal-fired Antelope Valley plant is too expensive using current technology. Retrofitting the plant to capture CO2 would cost about $250 million, and would remove about 1 million tons of the gas annually, or about an eighth of the emissions, he said. CO2 used for oil recovery fetches up to $35 a ton, but capturing and piping it from the plant would cost the company up to $80 a ton now, Loop said. Coal, which provides electricity to about half of U.S. homes, will continue to be a primary energy source, Dorgan said. "The question is not whether we use coal but how we use coal," Dorgan said. "How do we continue to use coal resources and not cause impairment to our environment?"