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Carbon Capture Legislation Approved by State Senate

The Pennsylvania Senate recently approved legislation establishing a framework for regulating underground storage of carbon dioxide as the technology comes into focus as a necessary component to fight climate change.

S.B. 831 was approved by a 30-20 vote with mixed support and will now go the state House of Representatives.

“This legislation is a proactive step to secure Pennsylvania’s future as a hub for carbon capture and sequestration,” said Sen. Gene Yaw, who sponsored the bill. “It’s a pragmatic solution to a problem that we all want to solve – reducing our carbon emissions without crippling the reliability of the power grid.”

The legislation outlines ownership of underground “pore space,” spells out rights and liabilities of property owners and operators, and gives the state Department of Environmental Protection authority to enforce federal regulations and conduct monitoring.

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is the process of capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) in air emissions, compressing it, and storing it permanently in underground geological formations. The technology is in its formative stages, but is seen as necessary to help reduce the climate and environmental effects of CO2, a harmful greenhouse gas. The gas is injected deep underground into Class VI wells, which are now regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The legislation is a first step toward Pennsylvania applying to the EPA for “primacy” in regulating CCS in the state. A 2009 Department of Conservation and Natural Resources report estimates the state could store about 2.4 billion metric tons of CO2 underground, the equivalent of greenhouse gases emitted by more than 500 million gas-powered vehicles in the U.S. each year, according to a statement from Senate Republicans. A recent Great Plains Institute study found that regulatory and permitting programs are essential to scale geologic storage opportunities.

CCS is integral to the federal effort to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs, with some of them using “blue hydrogen” created from the abundant natural gas supply in the U.S. with the CO2 emissions stored underground. A hydrogen hub is defined as “a network of clean hydrogen producers, potential clean hydrogen consumers, and connective infrastructure located in close proximity.”

The Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2), which takes in Southwestern Pennsylvania, was one of seven projects chosen to receive part of $7 billion in federal funding. It will produce blue hydrogen to be used to decarbonize the power sector and industrial operations. A second Pennsylvania project, the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2) that includes Southeastern Pennsylvania, will focus on producing “green” hydrogen using electrolysis with nuclear and renewable energy.

The legislation defines subsurface “pore space” and designates that ownership of the pore space lies with the surface owner of the property. The bill would allow the state to impose a fee on storage operators to help cover regulatory and monitoring costs, and state regulations would follow those of the federal government. No sooner than 10 years after a project is completed, an operator can ask the state for a certificate of completion. At that time that is granted, the state assumes ownership and liability for the injected CO2.

Some groups oppose carbon capture, arguing that it is prolonging the use of fossil fuels, while others have expressed concerns about safety, seismicity, and future liabilities should a leak occur. Gov. Josh Shapiro has expressed support for state regulation and assuming primacy.

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