Burying World's Extra CO2 on Ocean Bottom

Article excerpt

Federal energy officials have joined scientists worldwide in studying the disposal of carbon dioxide as a way of slowing down the "greenhouse effect."

The US Department of Energy has funded two carbon "sequestration" programs - one on land and one in the deep ocean - for $9 million. In September, it announced another $18 million in research grants.

Scientists are just now beginning to examine the disposal of carbon dioxide, one of the primary greenhouse gases linked to global warming. The idea is to get rid of carbon dioxide from factories, cars, and other sources of fossil fuel burning before the odorless gas reaches the atmosphere.

"This is to find out which carbon sequestration options are the best in the future and which ones will be verifiable," DOE program manager John Houghton says about the new research grants. "We're concerned about this in the long term."

Other countries have already begun pilot projects. A state-owned Norwegian petroleum company, for example, has been pumping 1 million tons of liquified carbon dioxide each year into depleted natural gas aquifers below the North Sea since 1996. Japan is conducting research into deep-ocean disposal, and others have suggested funneling liquified carbon dioxide into abandoned coal or salt mines, or perhaps bubbling it through CO2-scrubbing algae ponds.

Because of the vast areas available, ocean-disposal is seen as the most practical method of carbon disposal - as long as it doesn't alter the ocean chemistry and harm marine life.

The world's largest deep-ocean sequestration project is scheduled to begin next year off the coast of Hawaii. The $5 million, four- year experiment will pump liquified CO2 from a laboratory in Kona, Hawaii, through a flexible pipe, down to nearly 3,000 feet. Funded mainly by Japan with assistance from the US, Canada, and Australia, the project still faces environmental reviews from local officials.

Despite these international efforts, the US government has balked at this new field of research because of political concerns, according to federal officials. Some members of Congress believe that carbon sequestration will lead to a de facto passage of the international climate change treaty known as the Kyoto Protocols (a treaty signed by President Clinton and opposed by the Senate). And some environmentalists oppose sequestration because they believe it will allow industry to continue burning fuels that cause the problem in the first place.

Scientists themselves also question whether injecting CO2 into the ocean could be dangerous to sea creatures, or just prove to be too expensive. …