REA Response

Texas is well-positioned to lead carbon capture projects, driving economic growth with fewer emissions. We have the infrastructure and expertise for advancing carbon capture technology to create affordable and reliable power generation if the EPA gets out of the way.

Carbon capture applications surge at EPA, increasing permit backlog

The Houston Chronicle, Nov. 3, 2023

WASHINGTON — Applications for carbon storage permits have surged at the Environmental Protection Agency this year, further straining a regulatory process that is already struggling to keep pace.

Applications for more than 100 carbon dioxide wells have been filed so far this year — more than twice the number filed in the previous two years — with projects concentrated largely along the Gulf Coast, in oil fields in West Texas and New Mexico, around ethanol plants in the Midwest and in California.

The jump in applications brings the number of carbon capture wells awaiting a decision at EPA to almost 170, without a single project approved since the Biden administration took office in 2021, despite EPA guidance that applications should be decided within two years. In Texas, close to 20 wells are awaiting approval, including an application filed by Occidental Petroleum early last year for a carbon storage project in West Texas that is supposed to be the first in a series of carbon hubs across Texas and Louisiana. A decision on the permit is not expected until the end of 2024 at the earliest. 

The drag in getting permits approved has drawn fire from Republicans and Democrats alike, who are questioning the Biden administration’s commitment to the technology at a time of increasing pushback by environmentalists against carbon capture projects.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., contrasted the EPA’s record with a 2021 report by the Biden administration stating that in order to meet U.S. climate goals, carbon capture “deployment should increase tenfold over the next decade.”

“It is hard for me to square this administration’s own report with its actions,” he said. “Nearly two-and-a-half years after that report came out, not a single (carbon storage) well has been approved.”

EPA maintains that it is working as fast as it can to move through the backlog, expanding the team that reviews carbon storage wells to 34 people from seven. At the hearing Thursday, Bruno Pigott, principal deputy assistant administrator at EPA’s Office of Water, said it was essential they not only move quickly but carefully in issuing “timely defensible permits” for projects that stretch thousands of feet underground, crossing geologic faults and potentially contaminating drinking water supplies

Carbon capture and storage “holds enormous environmental and economic potential,” he said. “EPA’s role is to ensure these activities do not contaminate our waters and make sure all people are fully protected from the diverse environmental and health hazards.”

Reviewing highly technical applications for carbon storage wells, which have rarely been done at large scale and are supposed to keep carbon dioxide permanently stored, was always likely to be a drawn-out process, experts say.

This year, the Carbon Capture Coalition, a group representing Occidental, Shell and other companies pursuing carbon storage projects, as well as some environmental groups, defended EPA as having to build a team and an expertise almost from scratch. At the same time, companies are entering a permitting process they have never engaged in before.

“A lot of these applications, its not just EPA causing the delay,” said a lobbyist at one company developing carbon storage projects who requested anonymity to discuss an agency with which he was in active discussions. “There could be missing elements, so they have to go back and forth, and there’s been a fair amount of that, especially on the early (applications). As we get more accustomed to this process, hopefully things should speed up.”

But in the minds of many in Congress, there has been little progress in the two years since they gave EPA $75 million to expand its carbon-storage permitting staff and grant state environmental agencies the right to permit their own projects. 

The Biden administration has yet to grant any state authority to issue permits for carbon storage wells. Wyoming and North Dakota were granted that right under the Trump administration.

“We have an administration saying (carbon storage) is important, and everyone nods their head, but I’ve seen this slow roll within EPA,” said Charles McConnell, a former assistant secretary of energy during the Obama administration who now works at the University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability. “There’s a lot of people within that agency that don’t care for carbon capture because of this idea it will perpetuate the fossil fuel industry.”

More than 500 environmental groups signed onto a letter two years ago urging the U.S. and Canadian governments to halt carbon capture development, warning it, “delays the needed transition away from fossil fuels.” In Louisiana, which has more carbon storage wells under development than any state in the country, protesters have targeted a number of carbon projects, concerned about the potential health impacts after the explosion of a carbon dioxide pipeline in Mississippi in 2020 sent dozens of people to the hospital.

For oil-producing states such as Texas, carbon capture and storage is viewed as a lifeline, a way to keep fossil fuels viable as the world seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and what some believe could one day be a trillion-dollar-a-year industry. 

Wyoming state regulators are working to issue permits on three carbon storage projects, with expectation that construction will begin in May, Lily Barkau, a groundwater section manager at the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, testified Thursday.

And Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and West Virginia have applied to EPA for authority to issue their own carbon storage permits, with 20 more states considering the same, EPA’s Pigott said.

“Louisiana is in the final stages,” he said. “We recognize the importance of states in allowing them to have primacy that’s been granted for all our (regulatory) programs. Because states can operate efficiently and effectively.”

Texas Power Grid Warns of Outages as Temperatures Rise

REA Response It’s clear Texas needs more reliable power to meet demands and weather-related challenges. We can increase dispatchable power and strengthen ERCOT, the state’s electricity grid, by supporting carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) and the hydrogen economy.  Texas Power Grid Warns of Outages as Temperatures Rise Newsweek, May

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