Pennsylvania landowners may be forced to accept burying carbon dioxide on their land

Amid a divided Pennsylvania Legislature, Democrats and Republicans are finding occasional common ground in a bill to launch a modern industry of capturing climate-changing carbon dioxide and burying it underground.

Other provisions include: Senate Bill No. 831 it would create an enforcement structure for carbon capture within the state, set a low bar for obtaining consent from landowners near places where coal is injected into the ground, and in some cases spare the fossil fuel industry from seismic monitoring, that is, observing an earthquake, known risk.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Gene Yaw, a Republican representing north-central Pennsylvania, who did personal ties for the fossil fuel industry, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate in April by a 30-20 vote. Now it goes to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.

However, a coalition of environmental groups said the bill was fraught with problems. They claim landowners could be left in the shadowy when harvested coal is pumped into the ground near their properties.

Furthermore, carbon dioxide may eventually escape into the atmosphere, posing risks to both the environment and public health: Incl Salter, Mississippia pipeline transporting carbon dioxide ruptured, sending 49 people to hospital with breathing difficulties, stomach upset and confusion.

“Our concerns on this issue were quite significant,” said Jen Quinn, director of legislative and policy affairs for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.

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In introducing the legislation, Yaw presented the bill as a proposal to order regulators to take responsibility for the permitting process for carbon dioxide injection wells from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In fact, the bill as written would go much further. This would allow operators to inject carbon dioxide into underground geological formations with the consent of just 60% of nearby landowners. This would allow operators to apply to waive liability for these wells to the state 10 years after the well is completed. It would allow operators to opt out of seismic monitoring of storage fields where carbon dioxide is injected into the ground if they can prove the deposit does not “pose a significant risk.”

Quinn said several of these regulations “set the bar very low.”

AND report by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit environmental think tank, found that no state sets the landowner consent threshold at less than 60%.

The report also argued that abdicating operators’ responsibility for their carbon storage fields would lead to negligence: the report concluded that operators who know that in the long run they will not be held accountable for any mess will not be incentivized to run a pristine operation . .

Capital & Main reached out to Senator Yaw, author of SB 831, but did not receive a response by press time. However, he did – wrote in the press release that the bill is a “active step” toward expanding the state’s carbon capture industry.

Environmentalists have long been divided over carbon capture and sequestration, known as CCS. It was practiced to collect carbon dioxide from power plants and store it underground criticized as costly, unsafe and largely unproven. One sec somebody says it is among many useful tools to tackle the climate crisis, others call CCS a nonsense this could prove to be a savior for the fossil fuel industry that has already done so he gathered himself around technology.

Environmentalists fear that the state’s geological conditions could prove treacherous in Pennsylvania, which has a history of centuries of oil and gas drilling. “The idea that they are going to engage in carbon capture and try to inject it in the same places where there is Swiss cheese is just stupid,” said Karen Feridun, co-founder of the grassroots Better Path Coalition, a staunch opponent of burying carbon in the ground.

Condition is dotted with orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells, including many that have probably yet to be located. Drilling creates underground pathways through which gases can travel and potentially enter waterways or escape into the atmosphere, thwarting progress in carbon capture in the first place.

AND Report from 2009 the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said existing oil and gas fields could “constitute a path for leakage of reservoir gases, including injected CO2.”

“The safest solution would be to bypass the oldest of these oil fields,” the report added.

Feridun said she also anticipates that the influx of carbon dioxide injection wells will involve a maze of pipelines to transport the carbon.

Because the bill would only allow operators to obtain consent from 60% of property owners at an injection site, some landowners would be left without a voice in the process, the southwestern Pennsylvania-based Coalfield Justice Center warned in its report. online petition opposing the bill.

The petition calls on signatories to send their representatives a message stating: “If 40% of people in a carbon storage field do not want carbon injected under their feet, the project can move forward anyway.”

Ethan Story, advisory director at the Center for Coalfield Justice, believes few Pennsylvanians are aware of the bill and what it could mean for them. “Landowners, in addition to elected officials in some communities, are very unaware and uneducated about this proposal,” he said. “The immediate response from most of the community members we spoke to and to whom we presented this information was met with great interest.”

SB 831 received a different response in the state legislature, where it gained – and sometimes lost – votes from both Democrats and Republicans.

A handful of Democrats cast confirmation votes in the Senate, including state Sens. Jay Costa of Pittsburgh and Christine Tartaglione of Philadelphia. Opponents of the bill included Sen. Doug Mastriano, a far-right Republican from south-central Pennsylvania who made headlines in 2022 after his unsuccessful campaign for governor and full adoption of a variety of tough policies, including a forceful position of fossil fuel supporters.

Carbon capture “to some extent cuts across what we would probably classify as traditional ideological divides,” said Sean O’Leary, senior energy and petrochemicals researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit think tank.

One of the most crucial endorsements for carbon capture in the state came from Gov. Josh Shapiro. Shapiro, a Democrat, ran on all the above strategies in the fight against the climate crisis. Now he has endorsed the technology as the state seeks federal funding for hydrogen centers. Two of the governor’s bills also recently included carbon capture climate proposals.

“Carbon capture is critical to Pennsylvania’s energy future,” Shapiro spokesman Manuel Bonder told Capital & Main. “We are pleased that a bipartisan group of senators agrees with the governor that we must invest in carbon capture and sequestration.

“The administration looks forward to continuing to work with leaders in both parties to ensure that bipartisan legislation includes appropriate environmental, public health and safety protections throughout the legislative process,” Bonder added.

Shapiro’s support for carbon capture could be key to getting SB 831 over the goal line in the Democrat-controlled House, despite warnings from environmentalists. It also has support Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council, which makes campaign contributions to members on both sides of the aisle and which maintained both fossil fuel and renewable energy projects.

The bill is currently in the House of Representatives Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, where several simpler climate bills – including one that would improve school districts’ access to solar energy and other that would legalize community solar projects across the commonwealth received unanimous support before winning votes from both sides of the aisle across the floor.

Capital & Main reached out to Democratic Rep. Rob Matzie, chairman of the House Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee, for comment on the bill. Matzie had not responded by press time. In the past, he has advocated for bills that have been a boon for fossil fuels, including: one subsidizing Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC’s plastics plant in southwestern Pennsylvania.

When Shapiro released his carbon capture energy plan, Matzie signaled his support: “These proposals will create good energy jobs, promote opportunities for technologies that deliver energy while reducing our carbon footprint, and, most importantly, maintain our status as a net exporter of energy,” he said in a March press release.

It remains an open question whether some of the provisions of SB 831 that raise concerns among environmentalists will make it through the House. But Democratic Rep. Emily Kinkead suggested it alternative proposal to a bill that includes provisions to protect environmental justice communities that have long been scarred by the remnants of the oil and gas industry. It would also provide increased protection to landowners located near carbon sequestration projects. Kinkead, D-Pittsburgh, circulated a memo on March 25 describing the bill but has not yet introduced formal legislation.

Kinkead told Capital & Main she’s not sure if such legislation will be passed, but she hopes it will at least be a starting point for negotiations to amend SB 831.

“I think the purpose of my bill is to at least show that we don’t have to do it exactly as outlined,” she said. “We can use better practices.”

If SB 831 passes the House without amendments, O’Leary, a senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, fears direct consequences for residents. At least one company based in Omaha, Nebraska persistent — is already planning to inject carbon dioxide into the southwestern part of Pennsylvania burdened by intensive fracking.

Business visions used 80,000 acres stretching across Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for up to 20 injection wells that would extend horizontally to 10,000 feet underground. This will require: number of pipelines not yet known. Those who oppose burying coal under their land but are a 40% minority will be out of luck.

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