23rd Oct 2020

Why doesn't Greece like carbon capture?

If Europe is to get serious on climate change, we have no choice but to embrace a controversial series of carbon emission mitigation technologies known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS.

Its proponents say without the technology, coal with continue to produce some 60 percent of Europe's energy needs and all its carbon emissions will continue to enter the atmosphere.

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  • Greece has worries about carbon capture technology similar to those of environmental groups (Photo: EUobserver)

However, within the Council of Ministers, Greece is one of the technologies biggest opponents, arguing that there are other environmental considerations.

The Balkan country's concerns have been dismissed as worries about losing competitive advantage to other member states as they are most likely unable to deploy CCS due to earthquakes in the region.

But Greece's concerns go much further.

The EUobserver recently sat down with Kyriakos Psychas, the Greek mission to the EU's counselor on the environment to understand his country's objections.

Not against CCS

"It would not be true to say that we are against CCS," inists the Greek diplomat, "or that we don't want to see it developed. In the fight against climate change, we need every weapon available to us.

"But we have to be careful not to let these weapons backfire on us, our children or our children's children," he says, arguing that the burial of carbon has to be forever, and so future generations come into play.

He says that when the European Council first made a decision on CCS, it was to develop the technology in an environmentally safe way. "And this has been an on-going concern that we continue to raise. In order to be sustainable, it has to be environmentally friendly and safe."

"We believe we're going very, very fast with the wide deployment of this novel technology," he warns. "The parliament is also in a hurry to implement this basically untested technology."

"What about the precautionary principle?" he asks. "Environmentally safe application needs time and patience.

"In five years' time, if there is a big accident, that would be the end of CCS ... These people who are rushing this through, without ensuring safety and environmental safeguards, may actually harm what we want to achieve with CCS."

Oil recovery

"Why this rush? Is it the desire to fight climate change? Perhaps. Is it based on commercial strategies? Perhaps that is also true. Perhaps it is a combination of both," he says, referring to the interests of oil firms in the technology.

The petrol giants such as Shell and BP are hoping to use a CCS-related process called "enhanced oil recovery" to inject CO2 into geological formations to achieve greater oil recovery.

CCS boosters say that this is not only acceptable, but to be encouraged, as the sale of recovered oil brings online supplementary revenue streams that can thus lower the overall cost of the process.

"All our experience [with CCS] so far has focussed on enhanced oil recovery by petrol companies," he points out. "But the injection experience is not the same as a storage experience, it is different."

And here, Mr Psychas points to worries both he and environmental groups have over the corrosive effects on storage sites, and the potential for leakage.

Acidic brine in our aquifers

"If the carbon leaks, how are we going to trap it? How we are going to monitor a leakage if it's small and far away from the storage site?

The Greek diplomat argues that in order to ensure that there is no potential leakage, implementation first requires at least two years' worth of measurement of background data that can then be compared to monitoring data during operation of a storage site. Mr Psychas says that thus part of their main efforts in discussions on CCS is ensuring reliability of any monitoring systems.

"We should be very sure we can trust the data, so we need to be very strict with the whole monitoring scheme. We need concise standards and procedures, and a verification and validation process." He also insists this be done by an independent body.

"Additionally CO2 is not like petrol, it can dissolve minerals. This has already been established by some North American studies. By dissolving the minerals, it can

create escape paths, and since it's buoyant, it can also get into aquifers."

Researchers performing a 2006 United States Geological Survey (USGS) field experiment on CCS in Texas found that in their location, buried CO2 dissolved large amounts of the surrounding minerals that were supposed to keep it locked away forever.

The CO2 reacted with salty water in the geological formation turning it as acidic as vinegar. The acidified brine then dissolved other minerals, including metals such as iron and manganese, and large amounts of carbonate materials. Carbonate are often used in the cement used to contain the CO2. If these are dissolved, the CO2 could leak into the atmosphere or the acidic brine into drinking water.

Freshwater use

The diplomat is also concerned about problems that are specific to Greece and other Mediterranean countries.

"Carbon capture requires the use of 90 percent more freshwater than ordinary power stations. That might especially be a problem for areas in southern Europe."

He also admits that earthquakes are indeed a concern.

"In an earthquake zone such as the south-east Mediterranean, the seismic activity of storing carbon dioxide underground might trigger earthquakes.

"So even if in the end CCS is shown to work, it might still leave some at a competitive disadvantage. We will have developed a technological tool that some countries will not be able to use due to earthquakes."

Ultimately, like some environmental groups, he is worried that the very expensive process of developing CCS will result in monies being diverted from renewable energies, and allow the coal industry to carry on regardless.

"Of course we have to fight climate change fast, but in doing so, we might just end up burying our problems and not really facing them.

"Everyone is talking about reduction of CO2. This is not reduction – it's removal.

"It's like sweeping things under the rug. It's out of sight and everything looks clean. But we all know the dangers of tripping over the lump. We cannot afford to create a situation that will cause future generations to fall over."

EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture

The European Investment Bank has billed itself as the world's largest climate change action financier as it plans to phase out gas, oil and coal projects. It has, however, not ruled out backing carbon capture and storage technologies.

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