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Underground Carbon Storage Could Cause Earthquakes, Scientists Warn

Seismic sites: The dots represent seismic activity during March 2011, according to USGS. Red dots are for seismicity induced by the creation of water reservoirs.

A part of the scientific community involved in plans for recovering the state of the climate change we’re transitioning has been relying for a while on large scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) as the most viable way to offset carbon emissions by burying carbon underground, in saline aquifers.

Two Stanford researchers, Mark Zoback and Steven Gorelick, a respected expert on the seismic risks of oil and gas production and respectively a hydrologist, now warn the scientific community that CCS applied on a large scale could trigger earthquakes which could make the trapped gases escape into the atmosphere. By “large scale” he means repositories that can contain 3.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, worldwide.

Zoback said that risks can be managed through selecting the CCS sites carefully, but “you have to be far more restrictive” when choosing a carbon dioxide storage location, since you have to “keep a buoyant fluid in place for hundreds to thousands of years.”

Zoback and Gorelick’s paper has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and comes only a week after the International Energy Agency publicly said that it relied on CCS to contribute over 20% of the emission reductions needed by 2050, so as to keep the global temperature rise by 2 degrees Celsius.

However, not everyone agrees with the theory that the two Stanford researchers are advancing. Ruben Juanes from MIT, for example, says that even if the theory was true (which he doesn’t agree with), there are some places where carbon couldn’t possibly come out of the ground, just because there are two layers of “caprock” (impremeable rock) and the gas would be safely stored beneath the two, even in the case of an earthquake.

I’m no scientist, but I think everybody’s right here. There may or may not be a chance for the gases to come out, still nobody would want to take the chance in the long run.

A set of two ideas come to my mind:

1. Use solar power to contain captured carbon inside new fuel, thus recycling it.

2. Take a shuttle and dispatch huge quantities of the gas in outer space, or crash it on Mars or the Moon.

Which of these do you think would fit best?

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