How Carbon Capture Could Kill a Bunch of People

(from August 2008)

Disclaimer: This was written in 2008. Information may have changed. Please keep that in mind. Meanwhile, this is an interesting look at how morbid I am…

My father-in-law gave us another stack of Popular Mechanics/Science magazines. I have to say I am occasionally tempted to get our own subscription, but really, he gives them to us so I don’t see the point. Sure, we’d have them when they were new, but what difference does a couple of months make?

Anyway, there was one article that made me hang my head and worry for the future of human kind.  It was “Greenhouse Graveyard: New Progress for Big Global Warming Fix” By Jon Luoma and was published in the July 2008 issue.  For length I’m going to kind of hack it up, but thanks to the modern convention of putting everything online the full article can be found here.

The gist of the article is that carbon, as we all “know” is causing global warming, so people have decided the thing to do is capture this carbon and dispose of it so it can’t get into the atmosphere: “…Called carbon sequestration, the process seems straightforward: Capture the gas, just as power plants today filter out pollutants such as soot or sulfur dioxide, then find places—underground, in the oceans or elsewhere—to dispose of it..”

But there’s a LOT of carbon to “sequester”

“…A single 1000-megawatt coal-fired power plant can send 6 million tons of CO2 up its stack annually… Hundreds of such plants around the world spew more than one-third of the 25 billion metric tons of CO2 humans pump into the atmosphere each year, with no sign of slowing. More than 100 new coal-burning power plants are on utility company drawing boards in the United States. China plans to commission about one new coal-burning plant every week for the next five years. …

“…Even compressed to a liquid, the amount of CO2 produced by a 1000-megawatt power plant over its 60-year lifetime is staggering: the equivalent of 3 billion barrels of oil. Underground storage for that much CO2 would be six times larger than what the oil industry calls a giant—a field with reserves of at least 500 million barrels. Multiply that by hundreds of power plants, and the sequestration challenge might seem overwhelming…”

So where are they going to PUT this stuff? Here are their ideas, along with my “predictions for doom”

“Lock It in Saline Vaults

“Later this year, a prototype ammonia-based filtering device will begin capturing a fraction of the CO2 from the Burger power plant. The recovered gas, pressurized to a supercritical state, will flow 5000 ft. down the borehole into a vast formation of porous sandstone filled with brine.

“Site manager Phil ­Jagucki, of Battelle Laboratories, points to a diagram of rock strata—and to a layer of dense and, project sponsors hope, impermeable rock that lies above the sandstone. “That’s the cap rock, the containment layer that should keep the carbon where we put it,” Jagucki says.

“It should work: Similar formations entomb oil and natural gas for millions of years—or at least until drillers punch through. But are there enough geologic containers with tightly sealed lids to hold industry’s CO2? A recent study estimated that deep saline formations in Pennsylvania could store 300 years’ worth of emissions from the state’s 79 coal-fired plants.

“Since 1996, the Norwegian oil company Statoil has injected 10 million metric tons of CO2 into sandstone below the floor of the North Sea. Seismic time-lapse surveys show that, so far, a thick layer of shale has prevented the CO2 from migrating out.…”

Prediction for doom:

Pennsylvania’s biggest earthquake, 5.2 magnitude, occurred on September 25, 1998, but that was nothing in comparison to what was coming. The people were asleep when the earthquake struck. Buildings fell, and deep in the earth a big piece of hitherto “impermeable” rock broke, releasing billions of tons of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere.  Like the victims of the Lake Nyos disaster in 1986, thousands are killed as the deadly cloud pushes away the oxygen. Rescue workers find many of the victims still in their beds….

“Turn It Into Rock”

“Late in 2008, scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory plan to begin experimentally injecting 1000 tons of CO2 into porous vol­canic basalt in Washington state. Within two to three years, the lab’s studies suggest, the carbon dioxide will begin a chemical transformation to a mineral.

First, some of the CO2 will react with water trapped in the basalt, forming weak carbonic acid. The acid should dissolve calcium in the basalt, which in turn will react with more CO2 to form calcium carbonate—in effect, limestone. According to McGrail, such basalt occurs worldwide, including under large expanses of India, with enormous storage potential….”

Prediction for doom:

Basalt is a dense, hard rock formed when molten rock reaches the earth’s surface.  When people began trapping carbon in it, the resulting chemical reaction changed the basalt into what is basically limestone, which is eroded at a much faster rate than the denser basalt. The weight of sediments shifting from said erosion, the resulting changes in fluids flowing underground, and more obscure factors like mineral changes worked together in an already unstable environment to trigger a major earthquake, that while not releasing deadly carbon, still killed thousands, not to mention the climate impact caused because limestone and basalt do not hold/transfer heat in the same way….


 “Pipe It Into the Ocean”

“In a more unlikely scenario, some scientists have proposed that large quantities of carbon dioxide could be stored on the bottom of the deepwater ocean, where high pressures would compress the gas into liquid form. Denser than seawater, the liquefied CO2 would pool on the seabed.…”

Prediction for Doom:

Thermal expansion had already raised the oceans 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters). AS carbon was piped into the bottom of the ocean and compressed into a liquid, the sea level continued to rise, from both the melting ice caps and the liquid carbon on the sea’s floor. Eventually, the results were catastrophic. A 1-meter (3-foot) rise was enough to swamp cities all along the U.S. eastern seaboard…

“Use It to Recover Oil and Gas”

“Since 2002, the pure stream of carbon dioxide produced by the Great Plains Synfuels Plant… has been compressed by 20,000-hp engines and piped to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. There, it is forced about a mile underground into a formerly depleted oil field, scouring out petroleum that otherwise wouldn’t have been recovered and replacing it with the greenhouse gas. Over the next 20 years the energy company EnCana expects to increase the field’s total yield by about half while storing some 20 million tons of carbon dioxide. ”

“…Not every major emission source will be near a suitable oil field. So where else might the CO2 go? One promising answer: back from whence it came, into coal fields. Methane (natural gas) is tenaciously bound, or adsorbed, to the surface of coal. Some early experiments have shown that carbon dioxide gloms onto coal even more readily. When pumped into mines with unrecoverable seams, CO2 displaces the methane, which can then be brought to the surface and sold; the coal, meanwhile, locks up the carbon dioxide. …”

Prediction of Doom:

Though Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the least earthquake-prone areas in Canada, it has still happened before.  In 1909 citizens were surprised  when an earthquake, now estimated to be at a magnitude of about 5 1/2 , struck. This was a moderate earthquake, large enough to cause some damage. Fortunately in 1909 there was not much development there to be damaged. Since then the area has experienced a number of smaller ones, so it was only a matter of time until another 5 1/2 or larger event occurred.  Only this time the ground below was full of a deadly cloud of compressed carbon…

I could say more, but I think it speaks for itself. Besides, I’ve spent to hours researching all of this already :p

References I can remember:

Earthquakes in India:
Science News:
Geological Sequestration Opportunities:
Doc :
Chapter 4/Science on Quizlet:
Earthquakes in Saskatchewan and Canada : – 45k
Warming to cause catastrophic Rise in sea level:
Carbon sink:
Pennsylvania Earthquake information: – 9k
Emergency Medicine:

Song playing at the moment – Trapt – Curiosity Kills


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About Joleene Naylor

An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at or drop me a line at

5 responses to “How Carbon Capture Could Kill a Bunch of People”

  1. GL Harvey says :

    When talking of basalt, you mention, “According to McGrail, such basalt occurs worldwide, including under large expanses of India, with enormous storage potential….” Who is McGrail? And while limestone (calcium carbonate) may erode faster than denser basalt, most of the fluids trapped in basalt are likely to be immobile at that depth (>2,000 feet), unlike fkuids at in the vadose zone. If this is meant to be a worst case scenario…highly unlikely…I get it. Unfortunately, the concept an amazing stretch, which requires a vivid imagination.

  2. Juli Hoffman says :

    Oh dear…This is how a little bit of research, a love of science, and an active imagination…can be a very powerful tool. I read stuff like this, and I think…ummm guys? This doesn’t seem like the greatest idea. Like those scientist who were working on a particle accelerator that could have theoretically created a black hole? Ummm…yeah. I read about those clowns WAY before Dan Brown decided to turn the idea into a book, and thought, “Hmm…Just because scientists CAN do some crazy/amazing things, doesn’t mean they should!”

  3. DM Yates says :

    Boy, I’m not sure I like any of these methods. why can’t we just try to live with respect for earth?

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