Schweitzer, Saskatchewan Premier Push Sequestration Demonstration

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall are turning to taxpayers to help pay for a carbon sequestration demonstration project.

They say it could be a major first step in solving the global carbon crisis.

The proposed $250 million project would entail capturing about 1,000 tons of the carbon dioxide emitted from SaskPower’s Poplar River coal-fired generating station near Coronach, Saskatchewan.

The captured gas would be piped about 50 miles to northeastern Montana, where the pressurized and liquefied gas would be injected about 6,000 feet deep into the earth in a geological formation called the Bowdoin Dome.

Scientists would monitor the carbon dioxide once it’s sequestered beneath the earth. After they are satisfied the gas will stay in place and not pollute groundwater or migrate to the surface, the carbon dioxide would be pumped back out of the ground and injected into oil-bearing strata, pushing oil into the piping network and up to the surface.

Schweitzer says he wants to secure about $100 million for the project from the $3 billion set aside in the federal economic stimulus package for sequestration research. He says the Canadian government and private energy companies would partner in the project, although though he wouldn’t disclose the names of those companies because of “proprietary agreements with the Saskatchewan government.”

Critics say Montana isn’t ready for a project like this because it is extremely expensive to do and the state lacks the regulatory framework for dealing with the complexities of sequestration.

“Sequestration might be an alternative, but it is going to be very expensive and the potential danger from doing it poorly could have a significant impact not only on public health and the environment, but also on property rights and water quality,” Anne Hedges of the Montana Environmental Information Center in Helena told the Great Falls Tribune.

“If we’re going to go down this path, we should do it with extreme caution and with our eyes wide open,” Hedges said.

Proponents of the idea say something has to be done now to address the millions of tons of carbon dioxide pouring out of existing smokestacks around the globe.

In the Legislature a bill by Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter, would put a state carbon sequestration program under the supervision of the state Board of Oil and Gas Conservation. Senate Bill 498 was approved by the Senate and a hearing was scheduled Wednesday afternoon in the House Energy Committee.

A bill to regulate carbon dioxide pipelines is well along in the legislative process.

The measure by Rep. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip, would give the pipelines “common carrier” status, similar to oil and gas pipelines. House Bill 338 would also allow private companies to use eminent domain to take private property to build the CO2 pipelines.

The bill passed both the House 90-9 and Senate 39-11 and is now back in the House to consider Senate amendments.

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