Columbus-based sci-tech research group Battelleis pulling out of a $92.8 million project to test carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Ohio -- one of seven regional sequestration tests underpinning the U.S. Department of Energy's program to kick the wheels on CCS. A Battelle spokeswoman cited "business considerations" in a terse statement on Friday announcing the decision, but Ohio newspapers highlighted local fears that injecting CO2 underground would spark seismic tremors, disrupt underground water supplies, and depress property values.
The setback offers further evidence of the strong Not Under My Back Yard backlash elicited by CCS proposals. Earlier this month Energywise reported that similar concerns are blocking European power giant Vattenfall's plan to sequester CO2 from its innovative oxyfuel coal-fired power plant in Schwarze Pumpe, Germany. Burial of the CO2 is on hold until at least next spring.
Battelle's six-year-old effort, the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership, proposed to capture 1 million tons of CO2 from an ethanol plant in Greenville in western Ohio's Darke County and store it 3,000 feet below ground, starting next year. Columbus-based utility American Electric Power and Ohio State University figured among the consortium's members, and DOE planned to two-thirds of the cost.
Until recently the project seemed on track, despite early concerns raised by a citizen's group that the injection would cause tremors. Last summer Mike Bowers, then the newly-elected mayor of Greenville, told the Dayton Daily Newsthat the proposal had "generated little rumbling" among Greenville residents: "Not being proficient in the geology of what's right under our area, if there would be any adverse effects, I would trust in what Battelle looks into," Bowers said.
Bowers' attitude, and that of his constituents, clearly shifted. The Columbus Dispatch, reporting last week on a separate CCS project by AEP and Battelle in West Virginia, counted Bowers among political leaders who had united to block the Ohio plan. Bowers cited fears that drilling the injection wells or escaping CO2 could disrupt the aquifer that underpins the county's agricultural economy. "Messing with the natural resources of our area didn't seem to be a wise thing from an experimental standpoint.," Bowers told the Dispatch. He called cancellation of the project "very good news."
Dayton Daily News coverage of Battelle's reversal cited opposition by Darke County's Republican state representatives Jim Zehringer and Richard Adams. And local CBS affiliate WHIO-TV, in a report titled "Protesters Win CO2 Battle in Darke Co.", said 90 percent of participants in a recent poll weighed in against carbon sequestration.
Even the ethanol plant operator had its qualms. The Daily News said that Neill McKinstray, vice president and general manager of The Andersons’ ethanol division, "hadn’t been assured to his satisfaction that any environmental contingencies, however remote, would be addressed."
For a straight taste of Darke County's qualms, check out the blog maintained by the ad-hoc Citizens Against CO2 Sequestration.
Peter Fairley has been tracking energy technologies and their environmental implications globally for over two decades, charting engineering and policy innovations that could slash dependence on fossil fuels and the political forces fighting them. He has been a Contributing Editor with IEEE Spectrum since 2003.