State seeks $5M for carbon storage project

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At its Tuesday meeting, the Moffat County Commission:

• Heard a presentation from Joani Matranga, Western Slope representative for the Colorado Governor's Energy Office, about federal block grants for energy efficiency projects.

She said Colorado received about $42 million from the U.S. government, of which $32 million was given directly to 12 counties with large populations.

The other 52 counties, including Moffat County, will split $9.5 million.

The commission did not commit to anything but said it would keep the various programs in mind.

• Approved, 3-0, recommending the road and bridge department seek informal price quotes for a manufactured liner to place at the bottom of a new pit at the landfill.

Staff officials wanted to waive the bid process because they trust the company they've used for the past several years.

The commission decided not to request a complete bid process because it did not want to affect road and bridge's plans to start the project in early September.

• Approved, 3-0, a personnel requisition for a part-time, temporary worker for the Moffat County Fair.

However, it added a stipulation that the new hire may work as many as 100 hours, but any hours more than the 45 that were budgeted would be paid by fair proceeds, which usually go back to the Fair Board.

The commissioners also noted that the position was filled before staff filed an official requisition, and it was not advertised. They said they would deny the same requisition next year if it was not passed through proper channels.

In an effort to protect the interests of Northwest Colorado's energy industry, the Colorado Geological Survey plans to apply for a $5 million federal recovery grant to test whether the hills north of Hamilton would be suitable for carbon sequestration.

"I thought of the Craig area because the power plants and the coal mines are so important to the economy up there, that carbon sequestration could be very important in the future," said Vince Matthews, state geologist and director of the Geological Survey.

He added later that coal, in particular, may come under increasing scrutiny as Congress moves to restrict carbon dioxide emissions.

"Coal generates CO2," Matthews said. "If we don't find a way to deal with it, I think the pressure is going to grow to do something else."

The grant application is due Monday to the U.S. Department of Energy, and it requires a 20 percent match of $1 million.

Matthews said the federal government plans to approve 10 carbon sequestration projects nationwide, and he expects the application process to be "extremely competitive."

Therefore, in an effort to strengthen the local bid, he asked the Moffat County Commission to sign a letter of support, which it did Tuesday after a 3-0 vote.

Matthews has not asked the county for a financial contribution. Instead, he is looking for buy-ins among local energy companies.

Shell, Tri-State Generation & Transmission and Schlumberger have signed on as partners, he said.

Trapper Mining Inc. has given its support, Matthews added, though officials there thought it would be "double dipping" for it and Tri-State to donate funding, since Tri-State is a partial owner of the mine.

The University of Utah and Utah Geological Survey also have signed on as partners and plan to be directly involved in completing the project if the grant is approved.

Matthews would not comment on how much money each partner contributed.

Peabody Energy, which owns the Twentymile coal mine, declined to be involved because it is invested in projects elsewhere competing for the same grant, Matthews said.

Rio Tinto, which owns the Colowyo mine, and Xcel Energy, which owns the Hayden power plant, both declined to be involved, he added.

Carbon sequestration is an experimental procedure to inject carbon emissions into the ground, instead of allowing them to travel into the earth's atmosphere, where some scientists think it rapidly speeds up global warming.

The U.S. House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act on June 26 by seven votes, which would put emission limits on all buildings, and require those that surpass their limit to purchase credits on an open market from other businesses.

Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who represents Moffat County, voted no on the bill.

It must now pass the Senate before it is ready for the president's signature.

Matthews said he estimates the Craig area could support about 46 billion tons of sequestered carbon dioxide, though that includes much more than the Hamilton test site.

Parts of Moffat County have good geological conditions, he said, including saltwater aquifers about a mile to one and a half miles underground.

"Saline aquifers are important because you don't want to mess with someone's drinking water," Matthews said. "It's also deep enough that we're not messing with anyone's groundwater, and we have the kinds of shields that have shown they can hold natural gas and other things for thousands of years."

If a grant is awarded, project coordinators would use the money to take core samples out of the underground rock for closer examination.

Matthews said a carbon sequestration site of the magnitude potentially available around Craig could be a significant economic boon to the area.

"It could be used for (oil) shale, power plants," he said. "It might entice new power plants to be built there. Perhaps it could encourage future natural gas processing plants, which may also be regulated for the CO2 they emit.

"This is all dream work, but this is how things happen. You have to start somewhere."

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com.

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