Environmentalists call liquid CO2 dump in Norwegian Sea illegal
The world's first attempt to demonstrate sequestration of carbon in the oceans by injecting liquid carbon dioxide
(CO2) into the Norwegian Sea is set to begin this summer. Environmentalists are campaigning to stop the experiment
and claim it is illegal.
Capturing and sequestering CO2 from combustion of fossil fuel is being pursued as a possible means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the European Climate Change Programme concluded that it offers "good potential" for reducing emissions, but that further research is needed, in particular to reduce costs. The Norwegian oil firm Statoil is already injecting some 1 mm tons of CO2 per year into the rock strata of an offshore oilfield in the North Sea, but no one has yet tried sequestration in the oceans.
Led by the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), a coalition including American, Japanese, Canadian and
Australian organizations is planning to inject five tons of liquid CO2 at 800 meters depth off the coast of Norway.
TheCO2 ocean sequestration project was originally set up to run a similar test off Hawaii, but this plan was dropped
recently in the face of local opposition.
Norway's Pollution Control Authority granted the Norwegian project a discharge permit. A final decision is expected from the Environment Ministry by next month. Environmental groups are arguing that the project would mean "dumping" CO2 in the ocean in violation of the 1972 London Dumping Convention and of the 1992 Ospar Convention on Protection of the North Sea Environment. The Ospar Commission discussed this issue in late June but is unlikely to have an answer until next year, a spokesperson said.
Greenpeace says that if Norway approves this test it will be a first step towards allowing industrial dumping of CO2
at sea -- which would break these international laws and encourage even further use of climate changing fossil fuels.
"The sea is not a dumping ground. It's illegal to dump nuclear or toxic waste at sea, and it's illegal to dump CO2 --
the fossil fuel industry's waste," said Truls Gulowsen, Greenpeace Norway climate campaigner.
Several other environmental organizations in Norway, including WWF and Friends of the Earth have also opposed the project. The US based Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) is opposed to the ocean dumping of carbon dioxide, saying, "In light of the ecological risks of carbon sequestration in the deep oceans, and the unproven long term benefits of this approach, UCS believes that further research of this approach should be abandoned."
Isaac Harp, a fisherman and the president of Hawaii's Coalition Against CO2 Dumping, a grassroots group that stopped
two attempts to test the disposal of carbon dioxide in the ocean waters near Hawaii, calls the dumping insane. "In
their attempts to justify continued use of fossil fuels, fossil fuel supporters are seeking methods to dump CO2 in
the world's oceans. This must be stopped, as there are so many other ways to combat climate change that are not
nearly as insane as this approach," he said.
Greenpeace and other NGOs also claim that injecting CO2 into the oceans could harm wildlife, and that the gas might return more quickly than expected to the atmosphere, undoing the object of the exercise.
Bjoern Faafeng of NIVA told that the test injection was designed specifically to test these factors.
"The primary objective of these experiments," says NIVA, "is to learn more about the physical-chemical processes which occur between seawater and CO2 discharged as a buoyant liquid at ocean depths of 1,000 meters in order to gain insights on the technical feasibility of this method and to better understand any associated environmental impacts."
Even if the experiment works and sea life is not harmed, the green movement remains opposed because it fears that sequestration of CO2 will prop up the fossil fuel industries and distract attention from efforts to move towards a low-carbon economy.
"The real solution to climate change is to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy," says Greenpeace.