Geological Carbon Sequestration:Is The Existing Legal Framework Adequate?

By Priyan Garg, Amity Law School, Noida

EDITOR’S NOTE:-

Carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. While it prima facie falls within the scope of geo-engineering, the need for a concrete legal framework to resolve the disputes arising out of geological carbon sequestration has been accentuated because of the rapid increase in global warming. Internationally, countries have committed themselves towards providing clean, healthy environments to their citizens, whether it to be through the Kyoto Protocol or the Climate Conventions. This article analyses the seldom-discussed issue of carbon sequestration and provides suggestions to improve the existing laws.

INTRODUCTION

 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) considers Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) a crucial part of worldwide efforts to limit global warming by reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The IEA has estimated that the broad deployment of low-carbon energy technologies could reduce projected 2050 emissions to half 2005 levels – and that CCS could contribute about one-fifth of those reductions. Reaching that goal, however, would require around 100 CCS projects to be implemented by 2020 and over 3000 by 2050. Such rapid expansion raises many regulatory issues, so in 2008, the IEA established the International CCS Regulatory Network.

 

Greenhouse gases, both natural and manmade, trap radiant heat from the sun and give rise to greenhouse effect. As some manmade gases are being added to natural greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, they are giving rise to post-industrialization enhanced greenhouse gas effect or global warming. Global warming is a dynamic Earth-Atmosphere-Ocean interactive phenomenon; its adverse impacts are climate change, increasing frequency of extreme events as well as triggering of melting of the polar ice caps, recession of glaciers in temperate regions and a slow but inexorable rise in sea levels. These concerns for global warming have attracted attention of global scientific community. The CO2 sequestration (CCS) provides scientific and technological approach to reduce net concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and considerable R & D challenges exist to mitigate climate change impacts. Research in CCS is driven by the needs of coal as source of energy for sustainable development. Significant efforts are on worldwide to develop CCS technology; the IEA launched the IEA CCS Review which aims to help countries to develop their own CCS regulatory frameworks by providing a forum for sharing knowledge on CCS legal and regulatory issues and also identifies steps taken towards the legal and regulatory goals in the 2009 IEA Technology Roadmap. India’s contribution in the research on CCS as well as critical issues associated with geological CO2 storage is discussed below.

 

CARBON SEQUESTRATION

It is the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2) and may refer specifically to:

  • “The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir.” When carried out deliberately, this may also be referred to as carbon dioxide removal, which is a form of geo-engineering.
  • The process of carbon capture and storage, where carbon dioxide is removed from flue gases, such as on power stations, before being stored in underground reservoirs.
  • Natural biogeochemical cycling of carbon between the atmosphere and reservoirs, such as by chemical weathering of rocks.

 

Carbon sequestration describes long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. It has been proposed as a way to slow the atmospheric and marine accumulation of greenhouse gases, which are released by burning fossil fuels.

Carbon dioxide is naturally captured from the atmosphere through biological, chemical or physical processes.

Carbon dioxide may be captured as a pure by-product in processes related to petroleum refining or from flue gases from power generation. CO2 sequestration includes the storage part of carbon capture and storage, which refers to large-scale, permanent artificial capture and sequestration of industrially produced CO2 using subsurface saline aquifers, reservoirs, ocean water, aging oil fields, or other carbon sinks.

Geological Capacity for Sequestration in India

India is a large granitic and metamorphic massif surrounded by sedimentary basins. It is divided into three major regions based on distinguished characteristics:

  • Indo-Gangetic Alluvial Plains
  • Peninsula Shield
  • Extra-peninsula.

 

These three regions exhibit different physical features and structures. These important geological provinces are detailed below.

The Ganga basin is the largest sedimentary basin in the world, with alluvial depths of thickness of 5000m and beyond this basin lies in China, Nepal, India and Bangladesh, with the largest portion in India. In the north, it is bordered by the Himalayas and the Deccan traps in the south. It is often also considered to be a part of the Indus-Ganga-Brahmaputra drainage system. This basin has 580,000 square kilometres of arable land, which supports close to half a billion people in India. It is drained by several rivers and is one of the most fertile regions of the world. The Peninsular Shield or the Deccan Traps are exposed in Western India and cover an area of approximately half a million square kilometres. It is one of the largest continental flood basalt volcanic provinces of the world with basalt thickness ranging from a few hundreds to a few thousands of meters. It is broadly divided into the Raj mahal and Deccan regions. It contains flat-lying basalt lava flows varying in thickness of more than 2000m and also contains inter-trappean and infra-trappean sedimentary beds of thickness ranging around 15m. Peninsula shield is composed of geologically ancient rocks of diverse origin. The volume of basalt is estimated to be around 512,000 km3.Extra-peninsular regions, around those mentioned in the previous two sections are collectively called the extra-peninsular region. This incorporates the northern Himalayan Mountains and the eastern lower Himalayas, the Thar Desert in the west and the outlying islands. These regions have not been studied extensively due to their low populations and comparatively very few thermal power plants.

 

Sequestration Capacity in India

Before any steps are taken to adopt CCS in India at a large scale, it is essential to understand the capacity for sequestration in its territory. There has not yet been a detailed assessment of India’s sequestration capacity, although there have been some initial estimates. The IEA and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have sponsored a project which is underway for detailed estimation of the sequestration capacity in the Indian Subcontinent, which is expected to be completed in Fall 2007. Current Estimates estimate a total sequestration potential of geological formations in India to be 572Gt (Giga tonne) of CO2. Of this, 360 Gt would come from onshore and offshore deep saline aquifers, 200 from the Basalt formations in the Deccan and Raj mahal traps. 5Gt and 7Gt capacity are estimated to be in unminable coal seams and depleted oil and gas reservoirs, respectively. As this is an initial estimation, it is reasonable to expect that after a detailed estimation of capacity, this figure would be changed considerably. However, it would still be considerably high as compared to the current levels of emissions as well as projected emissions in the near future. Deep Sea Sediment Capacity, according to researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the offshore sequestration capacity in deep sea sediments in India’s exclusive economic zone is a further 15,600Gt. This kind of sequestration is yet to be proven in a real experiment and will take time to develop. If it is implemented, it would probably come at a later stage, when geological sequestration has been successfully adopted onshore and there is considerable need to increase the capacity.

 

Carbon capture and storage legal and regulatory review from existing laws

When developing a CCS legal and regulatory framework, it is crucial to have a thorough understanding of existing laws that may be relevant, as CCS may be most easily regulated by modifying frameworks that are already in effect.

To facilitate commercial CCS deployment and to implement the EU CCS Directive, the government is working on new regulations covering CO2 storage and transportation on the Norwegian Continental Shelf that will continue to be based on existing petroleum legislation CCS regulations are not always adapted from existing oil and gas legislation, however.

 

CHEMICAL PROCESSES

Carbon, in the form of CO2 can be removed from the atmosphere by chemical processes, and stored in stable carbonate mineral forms. This process is known as ‘carbon sequestration by mineral carbonation or mineral sequestration involves reacting CO2 with abundantly available metal oxides–either magnesium oxide (MgO) or calcium oxide (CaO) to form stable carbonates. These reactions are exothermic and occur naturally (e.g., the weathering of rock over geologic time periods).

CaO + CO2 → CaCO3

MgO + CO2 → MgCO3

Calcium and magnesium are found in nature typically as calcium and magnesium silicates (such as forsterite and serpentinite) and not as binary oxides. For forsterite and serpentine the reactions are:

Mg2SiO4 + 2CO2 = 2MgCO3 + SiO2

Mg3Si2O5(OH)4+ 3CO2 = 3MgCO3 + 2SiO2 + 2H2O

These reactions are slightly more favourable at low temperatures. This process occurs naturally over geologic time frames and is responsible for much of the Earth’s surface limestone. The reaction rate can be made faster, for example by reacting at higher temperatures and/or pressures CO2 naturally reacts with peridotite rock in surface exposures of ophiolites, notably in Oman. It has been suggested that this process can be enhanced to carry out natural mineralisation of CO2. Reducing emissions Increases yields and efficiency generally reduces emissions as well, since more food results from the same or less effort. Techniques include more accurate use of fertilizers, less soil disturbance, better irrigation, and crop strains bred for locally beneficial traits and increased yields.

 

LEGAL BACKGROUND TO GEOLOGICAL CARBON SEQUESTRATION

 

It should be noted that there is currently no legislation, both national and International, which specifically covers the legal issues surrounding carbon sequestration. The laws that could apply to geological carbon sequestration were not designed with this is mind.

Although carbon sequestration is not specifically mentioned in legislation it can of course still fall under the legislations remit.

Many international laws in particular are still developing and evolving and can react to such changes in society. The Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Convention, adopted in 1997, established binding obligations for the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases in an attempt to stabilise these anticipated changes to the global climate. Under this Protocol developed countries agreed to reduce their emissions to 5.2% below 1990 levels over the period 2008-2012. The scale of these cuts in greenhouse gas emissions required over the next few decades has meant that many developed countries are considering various mitigation options because a rapid move away from fossil fuels is unlikely to be achievable without serious disruption to the global economy. One method of reducing CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, whilst continuing to use fossil fuels, is to capture and store them in another domain. This is often known as sequestration. Since the Kyoto Protocol there has been increased emphasis on the contribution that sequestration could make. Many policy makers believe that the storing of sequestered CO2 could play a key role in bridging the gap from fossil fuels to the transition to a hydrogen economy and other sources of clean energy. There are many different types of sequestration options currently under consideration.

 

Research projects have been underway since the 1980s to examine the costs and feasibility of CCS. The effectiveness of storing the CO2 will vary and some options are seen as more viable than others. Biological carbon sequestration, which involves the taking up of CO2 in forests and soils has already received considerable attention and features in the Kyoto Protocol. This type of sequestration process does not involve actual capture of CO2 at site because the forest or soil naturally takes up the CO2. Ocean sequestration of CO2 is another mitigation option that has received an increasing level of attention from policy makers in recent years. The final type of sequestration option that is being considered, and will be the focus of this research report, is geological sequestration. Geological sequestration, which is sometimes also known as engineered sequestration, has probably received less exposure in the past than biological and ocean sequestration, but is now starting to receive increasing attention.

 

The oil and gas reservoirs in the North Sea are proven natural underground traps – known to have held liquids and gases for millions of years. Gas in particular is lighter than carbon dioxide and this has been confined naturally for many years and could provide evidence for the long term integrity of storage. Geological sequestration should therefore in principle be capable of retaining CO2 for a very long time, perhaps indefinitely. Although CO2 is not expected to leak from their storage sites in the short term (possibly thousands of years) there are concerns as to whether it is a safe and stable storage method for CO2. Although oil and gas has been trapped naturally for millions of years in geological formations, it is unpredictable whether putting substances back in could disturb their natural balance. If there is an escape of CO2 it could pose a serious threat to the marine environment –although this very much depends on the speed of the leakage.

 

The importance of a systematic analysis of the legal dimension of the long term sub-strata storage of CO2 is increasingly being recognised in the United Kingdom, as are some of the uncertainties and complexities involved. A report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution concluded that it was “open to interpretation whether disposal of carbon dioxide into the ocean or under the sea bed would be permissible under current international law”. The Department of Trade and Industry in the United Kingdom have also acknowledged the uncertainties of the current legal status of sub-sea storage. The majority of international conventions normally become operational in two stages. The first stage is when a certain number of countries sign the convention, signalling their intention to become parties to it. Most democratic countries must submit international agreements to their parliaments or other governing institutions for approval, and then often pass domestic laws to implement the international conventions within their countries. The second stage in becoming legally operational is when a sufficient number of states have acceded to the convention and it becomes international law are as follows:

 

  • In 1972 the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping Wastes and Other Matters London Convention set out international rules to prevent marine pollution from this practice world-wide. This was renamed in 1993 as the London Convention, 1972.
  • The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was signed in 1982 and came into force on 16 November 1984, one year after it received its 60th ratification and after that it became international law because of disagreements about provisions in the Convention concerning the deep sea-bed mining regime.
  • The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Trans boundary Context,

Also known as the ESPOO Convention was agreed in 1991, entered into force on 10 September 1997. The Convention was ratified by both the European Union and the United Kingdom in 1997.

  • The Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 was agreed at the Rio Summit in 1992. The United Kingdom ratified the Convention in December 1993 and it entered into force in March 1994.
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity was opened for signature in Rio in 1992. The United Kingdom is a party to the Convention which it ratified in 1994. The Convention came into force in December 1993.
  • The 1996 Protocol to the London Convention has not yet entered into force in international law, but the United Kingdom ratified the Protocol in December 1998.
  • The Kyoto Protocol to the Climate Change Convention was signed in 1997. The United Kingdom ratified it in May 2002. The Protocol is not yet in force as it still requiring a sufficient number of parties to ratify it.

THE CHALLENGES OF GEOLOGICAL CARBON SEQUESTRATION

It is evident that there are many hurdles for deploying carbon capture and storage technologies in India. The most significant problems are:

  1. High cost of CCS – One of the most important objections of the Indian government officials to suggestions of implementation of CCS in India were the factor of high costs. Most officials objected to the high costs both in terms of loss of power and high capital costs that India will have to face to implement CCS.
  2. Technology customization and adoption – There is widespread belief that the IGCC and CCS technologies have not been extensively tested and customized for Indian conditions. Since India has not been involved with any of the current projects, the understanding of the technology and its adaptation in India is low.
  3. Government Opposition and Apathy – There is considerable opposition from the government due to the above reasons as well as economic reasons stemming from the belief that since the current accumulation of greenhouse gases is not of India’s doing, and so it should not have to bear the costs of emissions reductions.
  4. Lack of cooperation – The Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF) includes India but the capacity building contact is currently limited to the central environment and science and technology ministries. The cooperation would have to reach the organizations putting up the plants as well as the relevant state governments. These problems straddle various spheres of government and international relations.

 

CONCLUSION

The analysis in this article does not paint a very exciting picture of the possibility of adoption of CCS in India in the near future. The road to significant reductions from a large number plants or a mandate to implement CCS in all new plants is long and arduous. Due to the perception of extremely high costs of adoption of CCS, the efforts will need cooperation of various countries, companies and multi-lateral organizations. It is unforeseeable to have many Indian CCS plants in the short term but in the long term, this can be achieved if we start taking the right steps now. Many bodies will have to alter their present positions and be more flexible in looking for a mutually acceptable solution. India would have to start designing a responsible and efficient regulatory authority while the international community would urgently need to find a mutually acceptable way to pay for the incremental costs of CCS. Despite considerable uncertainty, current estimates indicate that India’s territory has a large capacity for geological sequestration of carbon dioxide. It will not be constrained by geology or geography if it chooses to adopt CCS. Like all other aspects of the problem of climate change, the road is hard and challenging, but the goal is worthy enough to merit our best attempts. The solutions will need cooperative action across nations, states, blocs and groups and yet the human race will need to overcome a lack of trust to work together to leave a sustainable world, better than we found it from ancestors. Mitigating climate change is the challenge of our times and we as a species have to come together to face it and come out ever stronger.

The CCS research in power sector is driven by the need to use coal as a sustainable source of energy. There are significant efforts worldwide in CCS technology development, deployment and commercialization. India’s efforts aim at development of cost-effective technology and capacity building through research.Insurmountable technical barriers for geological storage of carbon dioxide exist, which need further evaluation of risk and safety measures.

 

RECOMMENDATIONS

Given the hurdles and problems enumerated above, cooperative effort by various parties will have to be undertaken if India’s emissions from thermal power plants are effectively reduced through the adoption of capture and storage. In the following analysis, I have delineated the following recommendations according to the intended audience and different stakeholders. It is worthwhile to demarcate the recommendations on the basis of different time frames as considerable preparation would be required before large scale adoption can happen. The entire world has an interest in curbing Indian emissions without harming its economic growth. The efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are spearheaded by bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum (CSLF). Some ground-work would need to be done by these bodies as well as the government of India so that the systems and capacity is in place before the adoption occurs. Following are some recommendations for the multilateral agencies to kick-start the process of adoption of CCS in India:

  1. Cooperative R&D on Indian coal – A common refrain from various stakeholders representing the relevant bodies of the Indian government is about the lack of adequate research on Indian coal. Optimization of the new technologies for Indian coal will be a good starting point. This improvement should not be limited to just the coal sector, but also the power sector.
  2. Technology Transfer – The technologies involved in long term carbon capture and storage have not been researched in India. With its extremely small reserves of petroleum, enhanced oil recovery with CO2 has not been used. The technological capability to undertake CCS at a large scale is missing and will have to be brought in from the countries which already have proven projects. This technology transfer will need to be on economically favourable terms.
  3. Increased cooperative training of Indian personnel to build capacity – Just as important as the technologies is the build-up of human capacity. For an effective and rapid deployment of the technologies in India, the necessary manpower, at all levels, needs to be trained. There are some mechanisms for cooperation in the Science and;
  4. Higher interaction with the Indian coal power system – Apart from research on the coal quality, the entire system of the power plants and thermal generation will need to be optimized to get the most power with the least emissions. The labour of the coal sector is a considerably large political power and in case these reforms lead to job losses, these unions may not allow for quick reforms.

Edited by Raghavi Viswanath

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