U.S. EPA Issues Its First Carbon Capture and Sequestration Permit
Posted: October 2nd, 2014Author: All4 Staff
On September 2, 2014, U.S. EPA Region 5 issued, for the first time, four (4) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) underground injection control (UIC) permits for the operation of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) wells at FutureGen Industrial Alliance’s (FutureGen’s) upgraded power plant in Meredosia, Illinois. CCS has been a polarizing environmental issue over the last several years, largely related to its role in controlling and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from industry.
FutureGen’s permits are the first UIC permits issued under the Class VI rules, which U.S. EPA developed to address CCS’s unique issues. The Class VI rules are more stringent than the other UIC well classes for items such as monitoring and well integrity, to ensure the protection of groundwater drinking supplies. Specifically, FutureGen is permitted to inject CO2 approximately 4,000 feet underground to offset its emissions from the coal-fired power plant. U.S. EPA estimates that CCS at this facility will result in the capture of about 22 million metric tons of CO2 over 20 years. To put that into perspective, 22 million metric tons of CO2 is equivalent to the emissions of approximately 232,000 cars over 20 years.
However, the uncertainty behind the permitting process still has both industry and environmental advocates concerned. Regulators have been hesitant to permit CCS due to the large amount of uncertainty and controversy surrounding the technology. Energy industry groups, such as the Carbon Sequestration Council (CSC), voiced some concern over the language in the draft permits. The CSC suggested that U.S. EPA could impose further requirements for FutureGen in areas such as corrective action, financial assurance, and siting due to an incorporated reference to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CSC feels that incorporated references to 40 CFR §146.84 are unnecessary and potentially confusing since complying with the area of review and corrective action plans described in the UIC permits is sufficient to meet the regulatory requirements. However, U.S. EPA declined to make changes to the permit language because these permits are intended to help develop the appropriate requirements for CCS as U.S. EPA will regularly review the testing and monitoring plans at the facility. As the review progresses, U.S. EPA feels that the regulations to which the permits reference can be updated in order to effectively address environmental issues.
Environmentalists also had some additional thoughts regarding the new permits, although they generally support the issuance of these permits and believe the Class VI rules for UIC permits are strong. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) thought that additional site-specific data, such as detailed modeling or hydrological data, could have been acquired in order to get a more accurate description of the drilling site and to address potential earthquake risks at the site. However, U.S. EPA felt that the evaluation of the site was sufficient and that site-specific conditions discovered during drilling may require a future permit modification.
In the end, these permits mark the first attempt to capture and store CO2 emissions underground and will be monitored closely by all parties. If successful, this could mean a major change in the feasibility of control of CO2 emissions from power plants nationwide, particularly with respect to Best Available Control Technology (BACT) demonstrations in Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) applications.