Ticking Time Bomb

Carbon storage under villages PDF Print E-mail
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Millions of tonnes of potentially lethal carbon dioxide may have to be stored deep under towns and villages to prevent climate change, according to a senior government adviser.

The storage sites would have to be closely monitored to detect any leaks and an alarm system would be needed to warn nearby residents of the danger of asphyxiation. New bylaws might have to be passed prohibiting bedrooms on the ground floor because of the risk of CO2 poisoning as people slept.

Nick Riley, head of science policy at the British Geological Survey, was speaking at a Department of Energy and Climate Change briefing on the planned expansion of schemes to capture and store the carbon emitted by coal-fired power stations.

The Government is planning to subsidise several carbon capture and storage demonstration projects and in October will host a meeting on the issue in London attended by energy ministers from 20 countries. Dr Riley, who advises the Government on carbon storage, said that the areas of Britain with suitable geology for carbon storage included parts of Dorset, Hampshire, Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

The proposed offshore storage sites in the North Sea and Irish Sea might not be practical for all the carbon produced by power stations, he said. “Onshore storage can be much cheaper because you don’t have the transport costs or the problem of building long pipelines, but then you have to persuade people it is safe.”

He said there was a risk that carbon injected into the ground under very high pressure could leak through bore holes or old mineshafts.“The worst-case scenario would be a situation where people were unaware there had been a leak,” he said. “In particular weather conditions or in confined spaces, those people could suffer asphyxiation.”

He said that Britain would need to learn from Ciampino near Rome, where CO2 leakage from the ground was a natural hazard controlled by monitoring and alarm systems. “People do make mistakes,” Dr Riley said. “You need to catch it early if there is a leakage before it gets to the situation where there could be injury or severe damage to the ecological system.

You can never say it could never go wrong but there are so many checks and balances that it is highly unlikely.”Dr Riley said that the Government would have to make clear to people living near sites selected for storage that there were only a limited number of areas with suitable geology.

You cannot have local communities saying ‘why can’t you put it somewhere else’ if there is no geology where it can be put. I understand the concerns people have about storage but, speaking as a scientist, I can say they are not necessarily valid concerns.”

Carbon storage facilities in the Netherlands and Germany are being blocked by residents concerned about the risks.

The Vattenfall plant in Spremberg, northern Germany, was meant to be Europe’s first demonstration capture and storage facility but is having to pump the carbon into the atmosphere because of local opposition.Dr Riley said that the risk of leakage was highest while the carbon was being injected into the ground into layers of porous rock at least 800m (2,600ft) below the surface.

Over time, the carbon would react with the rock and form more stable carbonates.

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