[Note from BenIndy Contributor Kathy Kerridge: Here’s a great editorial that sums up the Montezuma Carbon Capture and Dumping project. It proposes to link up to Valero in its second phase so we really need to keep an eye on this one in our own backyard. Please share.]
Collect 1 million tons of Bay Area CO2, compress it, then transport it to injection site. What could go wrong? Plenty
SJ Mercury, by Chirag Bhakta, February 8, 2024
Last May, a Bay Area company curiously named Montezuma Wetlands submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to build a “CarbonHub” in Solano County’s Montezuma Wetlands.
According to the proposal, the project would involve drilling a well for carbon injection and establishing an extensive expansion of submerged pipelines across San Francisco Bay. Almost immediately the project rightfully came under fire from our organization and many others due to the reality that such a venture would threaten public health, degrade the local environment and stall legitimate climate action.
Indeed, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) — the process of trapping and storing climate pollution before it enters the atmosphere — has never worked in the real world and, in an ironic twist, has mostly been embraced by major polluters who see it as a way to claim they are cleaning up their act without changing anything.
According to the application, the Montezuma CarbonHub project’s initial plan is to rely on CCS to collect 1 million tons of CO2 from multiple power plants and industrial sources across the Bay Area. The CO2 would then be compressed and transported from capture sites to Montezuma’s existing offloading dock, directly across the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from Antioch and Pittsburg, and then to the proposed injection location one mile north of the dock.
Threat of CO2 leaks
There are ample reasons to be skeptical of this scheme. For starters, CCS is an extremely expensive technology that requires significant investment and infrastructure, and there is no proven track record of it helping us reach our climate goals. In fact, most CCS projects have been total failures and the only carbon capture “successes” use the captured CO2 to get more oil out of existing wells.
In the Bay Area, there are no power plants or oil refineries currently using carbon capture technology, so it is hard to assess how the process will be successful at several different facilities. Worryingly, the Montezuma project would also require a massive buildout of underwater pipelines through San Francisco Bay, from Antioch to Richmond.
Further, the transportation and storage of captured carbon can lead to leaks, accidents and explosions that can result in severe health risks that often disproportionately affect communities already facing the effects of the climate crisis.
In 2020, a CO2 pipeline leaked in a small Mississippi town, resulting in the emergency evacuation of over 300 people and the hospitalization of 45. Victims were found unconscious, foaming at the mouth and experiencing other alarming symptoms. An even grimmer example dates back to 1986, when a natural release of massive CO2 quantities from Lake Nyos in Cameroon led to the displacement of oxygen for miles around and caused the tragic death of over 1,700 people.
Finally, CCS also threatens the lives of the other species we share our planet with. Any CO2 leak along the proposed 45-mile pipeline route could cause substantial harm to Bay Area ecosystems and species.
Air quality concerns
While these reasons are more than enough for the EPA to reject Montezuma Wetlands’s application, even if this scheme was successfully deployed, carbon capture will likely worsen the air quality in already overburdened communities. This is for the simple reason that the facilities would continue to spew pollution into the air. That means increasing levels of pollutants associated with asthma, poor birth outcomes, heart attack and cancer, exacerbating the already existing stark health inequities in California. Indeed, the Montezuma CarbonHub project’s location near disadvantaged communities highlights a persistent trend of environmental racism.
Adding to the complexity and danger is the current lack of comprehensive regulation surrounding CO2 pipelines. The federal pipeline agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is undertaking an overhaul of safety regulations. However, these regulations are not expected to be ready until the end of 2024.
Upcoming public hearings on the Montezuma CarbonHub project by the Pacific Southwest EPA will provide an opportunity for Bay Area community members and experts to voice their concerns. Similar carbon pipeline schemes have already run into substantial opposition in the Midwest, thanks to grassroots organizers who have helped communities understand the risks of such projects.
However, halting this project in the Bay Area is not enough. Similar projects are being proposed across California, particularly in communities in the Central Valley, who are already disproportionately experiencing the effects of the drought, including dry and contaminated wells. And California leaders like Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Representative John Garamendi must throw their full weight behind federal action, namely a national moratorium on the CO2 pipelines leaving their constituents at serious risk.
Our path forward must be focused on ending our reliance on fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy systems. This means redirecting public and private funding from flawed climate scams like CCS toward proven solutions that are essential for building a sustainable and equitable future.
Chirag Bhakta is the California director of Food & Water Watch.