Will Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) Conflict With Mineral & Property Rights?

CO2 pipeline network usa image

"Red lines represent existing CO2 pipeline infrastructure; the green lines represent the hypothetical pipeline scenarios..." Image credit:R. Lee Gresham, Jay Apt, M. Granger Morgan, Sean T. McCoy, from pre-publication draft paper: Implications of Compensating Property-Owners for Geologic Sequestration of CO2

Pretend it's 2040. US citizens live in a Carbon Constrained Era, in which Federal law enables legal access by carbon injectors to geological pore space, deep under the earth--pretty much wherever they want it. The law also protects carbon dioxide injectors and generators from being held liable for any CO2 "leaks" that may come, regardless of cause. Installation of high pressure pipelines, to move carbon dioxide from coal plants to distant injection well fields, were seen as a "taking" of private property rights as well as a taxpayer bailout of the coal utilities. Outrage over the pipeline projects brought conservatives and liberals together in a fight which they eventually lost.So, after the CO2 injection wells were drilled and pipelines built, liquid CO2 was injected on a massive scale, filling cracks and pores over increasingly wide areas of Southern US States. Conflict lingered...so that when direct costs indeed fell on property and mineral rights holders, a legal defense of injection, hinging on the US Constitution's Commerce Clause, was heard by the Supreme Court. Heard in testimony: Injected C02 was shown to have crossed state lines, thousands of feet underground.
Back to the Present
By some estimates, C02 permeation plumes in the range of 5,000 Km² (1931 mi²) to 10,000 Km² (3861 mi²) may result from CCS schemes. Rough estimates, of course, but they illustrate that boundaries will be crossed. Additional land will be "taken" by new pipelines; some of the takings may even be in prime Midwestern agricultural land (as pictured).

Main point. Mineral rights owners can't be drilling in the present or prospective footprints of CCS plumes, in search of natural gas for example, because that would increase the risk of C02 release to the atmosphere. Rights holders certainly can't remove the overburden.

Property owners can not build next to, or over, a pipeline, once the project is operating. Does this mean carbon sequestration will be viewed by citizens as "taking" mineral and property rights, and that compensation may be demanded?

The hypothetical "takings" scenario seems plausible, at least in a small number of carbon capture and storage (CCS) situations. Reason? Mining and oil and gas drilling in the USA have a century-long tradition of 'every man for himself' chance taking. We've seen the anecdotes of 'claim stealing': "wildcat" drilling; mountaintop removal; mine fires; collapsed mining lagoons flooding out whole communities; land subsidence collapsing entire villages. Seems likely that at some point a drill bit is going to come up against CCS vault.

While US mineral rights are governed by an archaic law from 1872 which puts all the rights in the hands of extraction industries, no one "owns" the right to store C02 beneath public or private property. This suggests there may be real be political and financial costs to pay before we get very far into the Carbon Constraints Era.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have taken a look at some of the main the prospective cost impacts. Below is the abstract of a pre-publication draft.

Implications of Compensating
Property-Owners for Geologic Sequestration of CO2

R. Lee Gresham, Jay Apt, M. Granger Morgan, Sean T. McCoy

Carnegie Mellon University, Department of Engineering & Public Policy
5000 Forbes Avenue, Baker Hall 129
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Geologic sequestration (GS) of carbon dioxide (CO2) is contingent upon securing the legal right to use deep subsurface pore space. Under the assumption that compensation is required to use pore space for GS, we examine the cost of acquiring rights to sequester 160-million metric tons of CO2 (the 30-year emissions output for an 800 megawatt power plant at 90% capture efficiency) using a probabilistic model to simulate the temporal-spatial distribution of subsurface CO2 plumes in several brine-filled sandstones in Pennsylvania and Ohio. For comparison, the Frio Sandstone in the Texas Gulf Coast andthe Mt. Simon Sandstone in Illinois were also analyzed. The predicted CO2 plume distributions have a median range of 3,700 km2 to 9,600 km2 for the Ohio and Pennsylvania sandstones compared to 320 km2 and 300 km2 for the thicker Frio and Mt. Simon Sandstones. We model the cost to use pore space in Pennsylvania and Ohio and, alternatively, the cost of piping CO2 from Pennsylvania and Ohio to the Mt. Simon or Frio Sandstones. The results suggest that pore space acquisition costs could be significant, and that using thin local formations for sequestration may be more expensive than piping CO2 to thicker formations at distant sites.

More on CCS
Carbon Capture And Storage Will Happen - Here's Why We Should Support It
Carbon Capture Make Renewables Look Better, Suggests Swedish Report
The Carbon Sequestration Cost Everyone Else Forgot

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