Big Carbon Storage Under the Deep Blue Sea


The answer to our carbon emissions woes lies far below the sea, at least according to a new paper from researchers at Columbia University (hat tip The paper, entitled “Carbon dioxide sequestration in deep-sea basalt,” which was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that there is “a dream reservoir” of porous, carbon-thirsty rock just off the coast of the Oregon at the bottom of the Pacific.

“This is the first good example of a site that is of the scale that can potentially make a dent on the problem of carbon dioxide storage,” Dave Goldberg, the paper’s lead author, told Goldberg estimates the reservoir could hold about 150 years worth of U.S. annual emissions.

Located 100 miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, the basalt formation sits below deep water, and then under another couple hundred feet of impermeable sediment. That makes researchers think it’ll be very good at locking the carbon up tight. But that will also likely make it difficult to inject the carbon into the seabed in the first place.

The fact remains that many scientists think viable carbon capture and sequestration technology is over a decade away. So we’ll probably have to wait a good decade to see if the Pacific basalt is as good as the report claims.

This seabed does avoid one major hurdle, and that is liability laws. Much of the proposed basalt reservoir is in international waters, which means that it’s not subject to U.S. liability and mineral laws. Dale Simbeck, VP of technology of SFA Pacific, told us at the Berkeley Energy Symposium that without significant legal reform in liability and mineral rights laws, carbon storage “is just hopeless.”

But the location also opens up a can of potential maritime legal worms. There’s already an arms race surrounding who owns the seabed at the North Pole and the international community might not look kindly on the U.S. sweeping its carbon under international waters.


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