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To clean up coal, Obama pushes more oil production

Published: Monday, Dec. 23, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP photo)
The H2S and CO2 absorber vessels are shown in silhouette Oct. 21 at the Mississippi Power's Kemper County energy facility in central Mississippi near DeKalb. Construction continues at the power plant that is designed to use a soft form of coal called lignite in a gasification process to generate power. The plant, Americaís newest, most expensive coal-fired power plant is hailed as one of the cleanest on the planet, thanks to government-backed technology that removes carbon dioxide and keeps it out of the atmosphere. Once the carbon is stripped away, it will be used to do something that is not so green at all ñ extract oil. Power companies sell the carbon dioxide to oil companies, which pump it into old oil fields to force more crude to the surface.

DE KALB, Miss. – America’s newest and cleanest coal-fired power plant comes with a catch: The heat-trapping carbon dioxide removed from its smokestack pollution will help force more oil out of the ground.

Some environmentalists complain that it ends up releasing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is stored underground as waste.

It’s another example of the Obama administration promoting new, cleaner technologies and allowing companies to do things it otherwise would oppose as harmful to the environment.

At first, the idea behind “carbon-capture” technology was to make coal plants cleaner by burying the carbon dioxide deep underground that they typically pump out of smokestacks.

But that green vision proved too expensive and complicated, so the administration accepted a trade-off.

To help the environment, the government allows power companies to sell the carbon dioxide to oil companies, which pump it into old oil fields to force more crude to the surface. A side benefit is that the carbon gets permanently stuck underground.

The program shows the ingenuity of the oil industry, which is using government green-energy money to subsidize oil production. But it also showcases the environmental trade-offs Obama is willing to make, but rarely talks about, in his fight against global warming.

Companies have been injecting carbon dioxide into old oil fields for decades. But the tactic hasn’t been seen as a pollution-control strategy until recently.

Obama has spent more than $1 billion on carbon-capture projects tied to oil fields and has pledged billions more for clean coal. Recently, the administration said it wanted to require all new coal-fired power plants to capture carbon dioxide.

Four power plants in the U.S. and Canada planning to do so intend to sell their carbon waste for oil recovery.

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