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WY Lawmakers Focus on Carbon Capture

Looking to shore up its resources and renewable base, along with creating a national model, the Wyoming legislature is considering at least three more bills this session dealing with carbon sequestration and some of the nontechnical barriers it faces. Heading the charge is a Gillette, WY, legislator Tom Lubnau, who responded last Wednesday to questions from NGI.

Describing the state's lawmakers' task as "trying to build an elephant from the ground up," Lubnau said the legislature this session is wrestling with several add-on measures after passing a first-of-its-kind law to codify landowners' ownership of the pore space underground. "The legislature did not create a 'new property right,' though," he said. "Someone always owned the pore space."

When Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal signed the bill into law last March, he said it was the start of his state building "a firm foundation for the serious development of carbon sequestration."

"We believe that for the United States to pull itself out of this financial crisis, we need to have responsible, ethical and economic energy development at home," Lubnau said. "Wyoming wants to serve as a role model in that regard."

While one proposed bill this session (HB 56) that would require proof that carbon dioxide (CO2) injection would not harm recoverable hydrocarbon deposits failed to win early committee support in the legislature, three other measures (HBs 57, 58 and 80) are given a good shot of passing, according to Lubnau. The bills are all designed to help lower the legal barriers to more carbon capture.

HB 57 would clarify Wyoming's so-called "split estate rules" giving mineral rights, including pore space, preeminence; HB 58 would assign liability in carbon capture to whoever injects the gas underground (rather than those who own the land); and HB 80 addresses profit-sharing among pore space owners organized for sequestration, similar to the unitizing of oil, gas and geothermal rights.

"We are trying to get the legal infrastructure in place, and then allow the market to drive the demand for carbon capture projects," said Lubnau, who contends that the U.S. has been injecting greenhouse gases for decades in enhanced oil recovery and acid gas programs. "In other words, we are trying to remove the legal uncertainties that stand as a barrier to financing such a project."

In a Jan. 14 state-of-the-state address, Freudenthal said his state is now "in a leadership role" regarding carbon sequestration, and the proposed bills will move it farther ahead.

"Is it perfect? Probably not," said the governor rhetorically. "We may come back over the years asking for additional changes, but it is important, particularly as we move forward in a carbon-constrained world, that Wyoming take a leadership role in making sure that carbon capture and sequestration can be done."

Lubnau told NGI he expects to be working on carbon capture legislation for a long time to come. "No one has ever done this before, and it is hard to create an entirely new industry from the ground up and anticipate every eventuality or development in the field. The last couple of years have been a great learning experience for us all, and frankly, a unified model would serve the public interest."

Between the last session of the legislature and this year's session that began earlier in January, Lubnau said, he talked about the legal framework for carbon capture in eight states. He said Wyoming has made some mistakes and he has shared those with the other states.

Wyoming's rich oil, gas and coal resources, along with plentiful wind and geothermal potential, are part of the reason, but not all of it, for the state lawmakers digging into the details of carbon capture, which is viewed as essential to a commercial-scale clean coal generation sector ever becoming a reality.

"One of the key drivers to a successful economy is cheap and available energy," Lubnau said. "We have the resources at home to generate the energy the country needs, and to become an energy exporting nation. If we can figure out responsible energy development, we can solidify our economic future."

A factoid that Lubnau likes to leave people with claims that just one county in Wyoming produces more energy for the United States than do (individually) the nations of Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Canada. "If we looked to responsible energy development at home, we could redirect the billions of dollars that are going overseas back into the United States economy," he said.

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