OPEC Takes on Global Warming

At a summit meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this weekend, one of the main themes was “protecting our planet.” In his opening remarks, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz said his country would put $300 million into a program that “will finance research related to the future of energy, environment and climate change.” Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia, pledging $150 million each. The funding pledges follow a statement from OPEC stressing “the importance of developing technologies that can help combat the problem of global warming.”

The $750 million fund is earmarked to further research in carbon capture and storage technology. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer assured the OPEC leaders that this is a fight on emissions, not oil. “[O]il will have to be de-carbonized with adequate technologies,” he said. “OPEC can deliver a big part of the solution to climate change.” With so much business still to be done in fossil fuels, the oil powers join the “clean coal” advocates in trying to “de-carbonize” the messy business of hydrocarbon combustion.

Carbon capture and storage remains a largely unproven solution for fossil fuel producers. The technical and financial viability of carbon remediation has yet to move beyond the research phase. While estimates vary wildly, current carbon capture and storage technologies could double the costs of the very energy it’s cleaning.

Yet carbon capture is already being employed at numerous power and fuel processing plants. Using several condensing and filtering systems, CO2 can be removed from the emissions of large-point sources. The problem lies in storing that carbon. Injecting the carbon deep underground or deep into the ocean are the two main avenues being explored for large-scale, long-term sequestration.

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The most promising solution involves pumping carbon dioxide back into aging oil fields, a method already used to increase the production of existing wells. Last week, Salt Lake City-based Blue Source demonstrated a financially innovative model for selling carbon dioxide to oil producers and earning carbon offsets.

With this $750 million pledge, these OPEC nations surpass the U.S., which through the Department of Energy unveiled an investment of nearly $200 million in carbon sequestration projects last month.

Carbon capture and storage is a growing business that will surely become more widely adopted as emission regulations are ramped up around the globe. With trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels still being pumped, mined and extracted from the earth, gigatons of potential carbon remediation business are being emitted into the atmosphere for the first plucky carbon remediator to start capturing.

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