The U.S. Forest Service’s recent proposal to store carbon dioxide beneath national forests and grasslands is a subject that demands a scrutinizing eye. This plan, although framed as a stride towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, introduces several practical and environmental concerns.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service today announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would allow the agency to consider proposals for potential carbon capture and sequestration projects on national forests and grasslands. This proposal would harmonize the framework between the federal government’s two largest land managers by aligning with regulatory structures already established for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management.
The core idea involves capturing carbon dioxide emissions and transporting them for underground storage in forest areas. The proposition, as stated, aims to support the Administration’s goal of cutting emissions. However, the feasibility and impact of such an endeavor warrant a closer examination.
Transporting CO2 to forests necessitates constructing extensive pipelines, a point underscored by Boston University research fellow June Sekera:
“To get the CO2 to the injection site in the midst of our national forest, they’ve got to build huge pipelines.”
This introduces a rather ironic scenario where forest land could be compromised for the sake of environmental protection.
Safety is a critical issue often sidelined in the broader discussion. The risks associated with CO2 pipelines, exemplified by the incident in Satartia, Mississippi, cannot be overlooked. Victoria Bogdan Tejeda from the Center for Biological Diversity underscores the hazards of CO2 as an asphyxiant, which are heightened by the remote nature of forest locations.
Carbon capture and storage often doesn’t work well, says Bruce Robertson, an independent energy finance analyst. “They are not capturing at the rates they said they would capture and they don’t store at the rate they were supposed to store,” he says.
The resistance from local communities against CO2 pipelines, highlighted by the cancellation of Navigator CO2’s pipeline project, signals a broader disapproval of such initiatives. The Forest Service’s approach, which could potentially override local concerns, brings up issues of transparency and accountability in policy decisions.
In response to these multifaceted concerns, the Forest Service, through press officer Scott Owen, assures a thorough secondary screening for proposals.
He writes that any proposals must still pass through a secondary screening, adding: “The Forest Service has been ‘screening’ proposals for use of National Forest System lands for over 20 years as a means to be increasingly consistent in our processes and also be able to reject those uses that are incompatible with the management of the public’s land.”
However, this procedural assurance does little to address the more profound questions of environmental integrity and technological viability.
The proposal to store carbon dioxide under U.S. forests is a complex and potentially dangerous issue that requires a critical examination beyond surface-level intentions. The implications of implementing such a plan, both environmentally and logistically, are significant and must be thoroughly evaluated.
The public comment period is open until January 2, 2024, it is an opportunity for critical public discourse on the drawbacks of such environmental strategies.