EPA Rules Address Safety, Emissions At Underground Carbon Injection Sites

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The Environmental Protection Agency finalized two rules Nov. 22 that seek to address safety and emissions at sites where carbon dioxide is injected and stored underground to prevent global warming.

The first rule, at 40 CFR Parts 124, 144, 145, and 146, establishes requirements for underground injection of carbon dioxide to ensure safety and prevent the carbon dioxide from causing groundwater contamination.

The other rule, at 40 CFR Parts 72, 78, and 98, requires greenhouse gas emissions reporting from geologic carbon dioxide storage sites and from sites where carbon dioxide is used for enhanced oil recovery and other purposes.

Underground storage of carbon dioxide produced by industrial facilities, including power plants, is considered a promising step toward limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.

The rules are a step toward the widespread adoption of carbon capture and storage technology.

Rule Issued Under Safe Drinking Water Act.

EPA issued the safety and groundwater contamination rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The rule will require site characterization to ensure injection wells are located at areas that can store carbon dioxide safely. Wells will be required to be constructed of materials compatible with injected material and include automatic shutoff systems to prevent unintended fluid movement.

Well and storage site operators will be required to implement and update plans for management of the underground storage sites.

According to EPA, the rule includes rigorous testing and monitoring requirements, including testing the mechanical integrity of the well, groundwater monitoring, and tracking of the underground carbon dioxide to verify that it is moving as predicted.

Carbon dioxide reacts with water to form carbonic acid. Several studies have raised concerns that underground storage of carbon dioxide could free up rock-bound lead, arsenic, cadmium, antimony, and other metals and contaminate groundwater (157 DEN A-3, 8/17/10)

Clarifies, Expands Fiscal Requirements.

The rule also clarifies and expands financial responsibility requirements to ensure that operators have funds for well closure, emergency and remedial action, correcting problems, and post-injection site care.

The rule gives states 270 days following publication of the rule in the Federal Register to apply to EPA for primary responsibility for implementing the requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

EPA estimates the total implementation cost of the rule at $38.1 million or $31.7 million using a 3 percent and 7 percent discount rate, respectively.

EPA issued its proposed rule in 2008, then released additional information and sought more public comment in 2009. The White House Office of Management and Budget completed its review of the final rule Nov. 15 (73 Fed. Reg. 43,492; 74 Fed. Reg. 44,802; 223 DEN A-3, 11/22/10).

Reporting Rule.

The greenhouse gas reporting rule requires sequestration sites to report basic information on carbon dioxide received for injection; develop and implement an EPA-approved site-specific monitoring, reporting, and verification plan; and report the amount of carbon dioxide sequestered at the site using a mass balance approach and annual monitoring activities.

Facilities that inject carbon dioxide underground for enhanced oil and gas recovery will be required to report basic information on the carbon dioxide they receive for injection.

Sequestration research and development projects will be granted an exemption from reporting requirements but will be required to report basic information on the carbon dioxide they receive, the same as the requirement set for enhanced oil and gas recovery wells.

Affected sources will be required to report data in annual reports, the first due March 31, 2012.

Carbon sequestration facilities were not included under the final, economywide reporting rule for greenhouse gas emissions issued in October 2009, which applies to sources that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases. Facilities covered by that rule had to begin measuring emissions Jan. 1, 2010, and must file their first reports by March 31, 2011 (74 Fed. Reg. 56,260).

EPA announced the proposed rule in March and published it April 12 (75 Fed. Reg. 18,455; (68 DEN A-5, 4/12/10)

By Steven D. Cook

More information on federal requirements for underground storage of carbon dioxide is available at http://water.epa.gov/type/groundwater/uic/wells_sequestration.cfm.

More information on the greenhouse gas reporting rule is available at http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/subpart/uu.html.