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CO2 Pipeline Concerns with Carbon Capture and Sequestration

September 13, 2010

Cap and trade legislation is dependent on the successful deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS is dependent on being able to transport huge quantities of liquid CO2 from coal-fired power plants to geologic formations where it is to be sequestered.

According to the EIA, there are 617 coal-fired power plants in the United States. These power plants produce the equivalent of 33 million barrels of liquid CO2 every day. For comparison, the U.S. uses 20 million barrels of oil per day.

The only practical way to transport this quantity of CO2 is as a liquid, by pipeline.

Around 3,000 miles of pipelines currently exist in the United States for transporting CO2 used in enhanced oil extraction, primarily in Western states.

Using the government’s Carbon Sequestration Atlas, together with information from Platt’s showing the location of 417 U.S. coal-fired power plants rated 100 MW and above, I developed a map showing where rights-of-way would be required. I did not attempt to bypass cities, geographic barriers, such as lakes, or environmental hazards, so these may result in longer pipelines.

From this, it was determined that at least 11,000 miles of rights-of-way will be needed to transport CO2 from coal-fired power plants to where it might possibly be sequestered. The estimate does not include pipelines for the additional coal-fired power plants rated below 100 MW or from other point sources such as cement plants.

These findings are partially supported by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) that issued its report, Future CO2 Pipeline Not as Onerous as Some Think, January 2009. The report’s title is misleading since the report concluded that 11,000 to 23,000 miles of pipelines will have to be built. But, it did not dwell on rights-of-way and takings by eminent domain.

The PNNL report’s primary assumption was that 95% of all coal-fired power plants lie within 50 miles of a geologic formation suitable for sequestering CO2. The government’s Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada doesn’t support that assumption.

Based on transporting 33 million bbls/day, through 11,000 miles of pipeline, the average pipeline diameter would be 41 inches. Many of the feeder pipelines will be a foot or so in diameter, so the main trunk lines could be four feet or more in diameter. More likely, the larger trunk lines will consist of two 30- to 40-inch diameter pipes lying adjacent to each other.

These will be high pressure pipelines with pressures of around 2,000 psi. A 24-inch diameter pipeline, therefore, would have a wall thickness of approximately one inch. The pipelines would be made of standard carbon steel assuming moisture is excluded from the liquid CO2; otherwise stainless steel pipe would be needed to avoid corrosion.

Pipelines will require periodic compressor stations where the incoming pressure might be 1,700 psi and the outgoing pressure may be 2,100 psi.

Conditions within geologic formations, such as the rate at which CO2 can be injected into the formation and the speed at which it spreads through the formation, will affect design of the pipelines at their terminus. These conditions will vary from formation to formation.

Rights-of-way will have to be secured for the pipelines because there will be few opportunities to use existing rights-of-way.

Takings by eminent domain will be an issue.

Safety will be an issue.

But, more on these issues in the next article.

And, for additional information see

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