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Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration – An Industry Primed for Explosive Growth? A Summary of the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s Report

On June 30, 2021, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) delivered a Carbon Capture, Utilization and Sequestration (CCUS) report to Congress in accordance with the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act passed in December 2020. The CEQ report highlights an inventory of existing permitting requirements for CCUS deployment and identifies best practices for advancing the efficient, orderly and responsible development of CCUS projects at an increased rate.

The Biden Administration is “committed to accelerating the responsible development and deployment of CCUS to make it a widely available, increasing cost-effective, and rapidly scalable climate solution across all industry sectors.” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory recognized that in order “[t]o avoid the worst impacts of climate change and reach President Biden’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, we need to safely develop and deploy technologies that keep carbon pollution from entering the air and remove pollution from the air…The report … outlines a framework for how the U.S. can accelerate carbon capture technologies and projects in a way that benefits all communities.” Development of CCUS projects and related infrastructure will be encouraged and favorably looked upon by the Biden Administration as a demonstrable example of how it’s seeking to combat climate change.

CCUS – OPPORTUNITY OF THE FUTURE FOR MIDSTREAM COMPANIES?

CCUS refers to a set of technologies that remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the emissions of point sources or the atmosphere and permanently sequesters them. In addition to removing CO2, carbon capture technology has the potential to remove other types of pollution, such as sulfur oxides. According to leading scientists and experts, removal of CO2 from the air is essential to addressing the climate crisis and alleviating the most severe impacts of climate change. Beyond the impact carbon capture technology will have on the climate crisis, CCUS will continue to have a valuable role in the US economy as the technology continues to evolve.

The CEQ report makes it extremely clear that any effective nationwide rollout of CCUS is heavily dependent on a massive buildout of pipelines for CO2 transportation infrastructure. Currently, there are approximately 45 CCUS facilities in operation or in development and 5,200 miles of dedicated CO2 pipelines. The number of CCUS facilities and the breadth of dedicated CO2 pipelines will need to expand at a rapid rate if CCUS is to become an effective tool for meeting net-zero emission by 2050.

Establishing CCUS at scale is going to be heavily dependent on—and presents a great opportunity for—midstream pipeline developers. Despite the 5,200 miles of CO2 pipelines and the potential to employ “orphaned” pipeline networks previously used by the oil and gas industry once remediated, there is no current network of CO2 pipelines at a scale large enough for permanent carbon sequestration across all industrial sectors. Thus, to achieve climate goals set by the Biden Administration, a significant amount of CO2 pipelines will need to be developed. According to the CEQ report, expansion of CO2 pipeline infrastructure in “the near term is [...]

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New Climate Change Guidance for NEPA Reviews

In the United States, federal agencies that license, permit or finance energy and infrastructure projects must, with some limited exceptions, analyze the environmental impacts of those projects before they approve them, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  But to what extent must those agencies consider climate change impacts as part of their NEPA reviews? The President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has just issued a guidance document that addresses that question.

CEQ’s guidance document—an August 1 memorandum addressed to the heads of all federal departments and agencies—urges federal agencies to consider two climate change-related topics when conducting NEPA reviews.

The first topic is the impact of a proposed project on climate change, and the memorandum urges federal agencies to approach that topic by focusing on the project’s direct, and indirect, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Agencies are encouraged to calculate a project’s anticipated emissions using existing government resources and calculators, and to draw upon existing government literature on the impacts of such emissions. The memorandum acknowledges that “the totality of climate change impacts is not attributable to any single action,” but concludes that climate-related impacts are exacerbated by some government actions and encourages agencies to compare the level of emissions expected from a proposed project to the level expected under alternative project scenarios. The memorandum provides scant details on how to calculate “indirect” GHG emissions but does suggest that for projects involving fossil fuel extraction, the indirect impacts turn, at least in part, on the anticipated ultimate use of the extracted fuel.

The second topic is the impact of climate change on the project, and on the project’s impacts.Here, CEQ’s memorandum encourages federal agencies to consider a proposed project’s impacts not simply on environmental conditions as they currently exist but as they will exist in the future and reflecting any changes that are expected as a result of climate change. Thus, if a project will draw water from a river that is already being, or that will be, diminished because of changing snowfall or rainfall patterns, that is an impact that should be acknowledged. The memorandum also encourages agencies to incorporate climate change resiliency and adaptation planning into their NEPA reviews, especially when analyzing project alternatives and potential mitigation measures. The memorandum suggests, for example, that agencies consider whether a proposed project’s design makes it more vulnerable to changing climate conditions (such as, in some areas of the country, increased risk of wildfires) than alternative projects.

CEQ’s memorandum applies to all new NEPA reviews and states that agencies “should exercise judgment” when considering whether to apply the guidance to currently ongoing reviews. CEQ states in the memorandum that it “does not expect agencies to apply” the guidance to projects for which a final environmental impact statement or environmental assessment has already been issued.




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