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Carbon capture full of risks: new study

The carbon capture and storage technology touted by rich countries and fossil fuel lobby groups as a fix to global warming might be a dicey proposition, a new report warns.

The research, published in the journal Nature GeoScience, takes aim at plans to capture CO2 from large industrial operations, then inject – or sequester – it deep underground.

Professor Gary Shaffer from the Danish Centre for Earth System Science studied several carbon capture scenarios – such as injecting into the ocean versus the ground – and their potential impacts over thousands of years.

“Most of the investigated scenarios result in a large, delayed warming in the atmosphere as well as oxygen depletion, acidification and elevated CO2 concentrations in the ocean,” reads an abstract from his report.

Carbon stored in the ocean could have negative impacts on deep-sea life and would likely return to the atmosphere, he concluded. Sequestering the carbon underground would only mitigate the effects of global warming if there was one per cent or less leakage over a thousand years.

"The dangers of carbon sequestration are real and the development of CCS should not be used as a way of justifying continued high fossil fuel emissions," Shaffer said in an AFP news service report.

Proponents of carbon capture and storage argue the technology is a necessary step in the transition to a low carbon economy. Renewable forms of energy are still decades away from wide-scale use, they argue. In the meantime, the world needs high carbon fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

The new research adds to the controversy over whether carbon capture will actually work. Or if the technology makes economic sense. That debate is often overlooked in attempts by industry and government to sell the technology to the public -- a sales pitch outlined in a 65-page report obtained by the Tyee in May.

Alberta, which has the second largest proven oil reserves in the world, is investing $2 billion in carbon capture and storage.

Geoff Dembicki reports for the Tyee.

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