On December 19, 2013, the EPA issued a final rule that outlines requirements for CCS technologies to protect underground sources of drinking water. The new rule clarifies that such captured and stored carbon dioxide streams will be excluded from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act's ("RCRA") hazardous waste regulations for discarded waste. The rule is intended to provide regulatory clarity to facilitate the development and implementation of CCS technologies in light of the proposed emission standards for new power plants, published for public comments on the Federal Register on January 8.
CCS is the process of capturing carbon dioxide from industrial or energy sources and injecting it into deep subsurface rock formations or depleted reservoirs for long-term storage. According to EPA, management of carbon dioxide streams under the specified conditions does not present a substantial risk to human health or the environment, and therefore additional regulation pursuant to RCRA's hazardous waste regulations is unnecessary.
The new CCS rule creates a new class of wells, Class VI, under the Safe Drinking Water Act's Underground Injection Control Program ("UIC Program"). This new classification is particularly relevant to the oil and gas industries, which often pump sequestered carbon into depleted oil and gas reservoirs to coax additional recovery of oil and gas. These wells are regulated as Class II under the UIC Program, and such injections for enhanced recovery of oil and gas are not considered waste management activities under RCRA. However, if the purpose of the carbon dioxide injections changes from enhanced oil or gas recovery to permanent storage, then the storage well must meet the more onerous requirements for classification as Class VI. The EPA has released draft guidance for transitioning Class II wells to Class VI wells for the purpose of permanent storage.
This CCS rule comes on the heels of the controversial proposed rule on emissions standards for new power plants that is part of the Obama administration's global warming initiative. Without utilizing CCS technologies, it is unlikely that new coal-fired power plants could meet the proposed carbon emissions standards. While CCS technology is decades old, it remains expensive and energy-intensive, creating uncertainty on whether its adequacy and commercial viability are sufficient to meet the requirements under the Clean Air Act.
Despite this opposition, EPA insists that these rules and emissions standards will facilitate the development of commercially viable CCS technologies that will allow new power plants to operate within the Obama administration's efforts to reduce carbon pollution. To spur this development, the Department of Energy recently announced plans to invest nearly $84 million to research second-generation technologies for carbon capture from coal-fired power plants.
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