The LA Times ran an op-ed from two activists – Carolyn Raffensperger, an environmental lawyer and executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, and Sheri Deal-Tyne, a lobbyist with Physicians for Social Responsibility-Iowa – in which they urged California to reject policy incentivizing ethanol production through carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). 

There are a number of points throughout the article, however, that are worthy of a fact check. Below, CAP has compiled a rundown:

Myth: Carbon storage sites are described as “underground toxic waste disposal sites.”

Fact: Word choice matters. Since 1996, captured carbon dioxide has been stored in deep saline aquifers 3,000 – 6,000 feet below surface without incident. These sites are closely regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Today, the U.S. has a successful track record of nearly a half-century of safely storing carbon dioxide at commercial scale. 

Myth: “[S]upplementing gasoline with ethanol would increase climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions, further pollute water from Iowa to Louisiana, and divert needed funds away from real climate solutions.”

Fact: Ethanol use and low-carbon fuel standards have garnered years upon years of study and debate among policy experts and scientists. As such, it is misleading to state that ethanol use raises GHG emissions without acknowledging the body of research that states just the opposite. For example, Growth Energy cites a study that found ethanol reduces GHG emissions by up to 46% compared to gasoline, while Biotechnology Innovation Organization says biofuels like ethanol are responsible for sparing our atmosphere nearly 600 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in the last decade – the equivalent of removing 130 million cars from the road.  The claims these activists make are dated, relying on discredited assumptions regarding efficiency and lifecycle analysis, and disregarding the impact ofimproved agricultural practices.

Myth: “Building ethanol infrastructure locks in ethanol and gasoline for decades, reducing incentives for investors or policymakers to shift towards more sustainable transportation.”

Fact: It doesn’t. Building CCS for biofuel production is a great way to diversify approaches to decarbonizing vehicles.  These activists would restrict the future of transportation with single technologies that have problems with consumer acceptability, critical minerals, supply chains, and knock-on environmental consequences.  The most sensible approach would be to reduce the carbon associated with liquid motor fuels as other technologies are improved. There is a reason why clean energy transition is called just that – “a transition.” The reality is, we need to deploy every resource and technology available. If we are serious about reaching net-zero, then we need to stop trying to eliminate pathways that will help us get there.  

Myth: “Carbon capture technology is aggravating climate change in other ways as well. Drilling companies pump captured CO2 underground to help extract more oil, ultimately leading to more pollution.”

Fact: The op-ed is attempting to describe enhanced oil recovery, or EOR. According to the Clean Air Task Force, this practice can reduce the carbon intensity of oil, and sequester substantial amounts of CO2. It is also the largest existing market for CO2 and, through its development, many experts believe it can help lower the costs of carbon capture technologies, supporting their wider deployment as the carbon capture market grows and evolves. 

Right now, there are roughly 30 carbon capture projects in various stages of project development across the United States, several of which have nothing to do with EOR. Including the very biofuels projects the activists are supposed to be addressing!

You can read more about CAP’s point of view on the argument that carbon capture will extend the lifespan of fossil fuels here.

Myth: “The highly pressurized state of liquid CO2 in pipelines, along with its corrosive nature when in contact with water, increases the risk of leaks, fractures and ruptures.”

Fact: CO2 pipelines have an excellent safety record. To put their record in context, 99.999% of oil transported via pipe reaches its destination without incident. And in the last 12 years, CO2 pipelines have had less than half the reported incidents of oil pipelines and caused zero fatalities. Right now, there are 5,150 miles of CO2 pipelines operating safely, efficiently, and effectively in the United States. 

Compared to other modes, like rail or truck, pipelines result in fewer spills and lower GHG emissions. You can read more about CO2 pipeline safety here

Myth: “In response to the Satartia CO2 pipeline rupture, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a report in May warning about the potential for damage to pipelines caused by earth movement and climate change, such as increased rainfall and higher temperatures.”

Fact: First, PHMSA’s investigation into the 2020 Sartartia incident found that a landslide and company-specific operational failures were to blame. The incident is neither reflective of the industry’s best practices nor the technological integrity of pipeline infrastructure to transport CO2. 

Second, it is important to note that right now, pressurized liquid carbon dioxide is moved almost exclusively by truck, which has a significantly different safety record than pipelines. As such, a mature CO2 pipeline network is to the benefit of public and environmental safety.

Third, the context of the PHMSA report is that the agency has issued a notice of intended rule making which would update PHMSA standards relating to CO2 pipelines. Here at CAP, our point of view is that it is critical that the safety of carbon capture infrastructure has the trust of policymakers and the public as this market grows. Through its report and its rulemaking notice, PHMSA is signaling its preparedness to oversee the development of carbon capture infrastructure, which is a net positive for our environment and economy.

The op-ed concludes by stating carbon capture is not a climate solution. CAP couldn’t disagree more, a point of view it shares with the Department of Energy, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the Energy Transmissions Commission. That final organization recently released its own report on the role that carbon capture can play in addressing environmental concerns, as well as the safety of carbon capture infrastructure. You can read CAP’s rundown here, but spoiler alert, it provides a more factual and realistic take than that which was provided by Raffensperger and Deal-Tyne.