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Published: Monday, 2/9/2009

Idea of burying carbon dioxide gains attention

BY SPENCER HUNT
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS The government and power companies are spending millions of dollars to study whether carbon dioxide can be safely buried.

The theory is to capture the gas a by-product of burning coal and a key cause of global warming compress it into a liquid, and inject it deep into layers of rock.

Pumping pollution into the Earth is nothing new.

During the past 30 years, more than 4 trillion gallons of industrial waste has been pumped underground, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.

In Ohio last year, three companies injected 247.5 million gallons of waste into deep wells. The waste includes hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, and cyanide.

The compounds are pumped into a porous layer of sandstone more than a half-mile underground.

Industry and EPA officials say the waste will stay trapped for thousands of years.

Chuck Lowe, a geologist in the Ohio EPA s underground injection control group, called it the best and cheapest disposal method for toxic wastes.

If everything is done properly, this is a very efficient, very good way of doing it, he said.

Some environmental groups disagree.

There is no way that it makes any sense to take liquid wastes and inject them into cavities deep in the Earth, said Stephen Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.

It s a process destined to create problems for future generations.

Mr. Lester said plants should install treatment systems, use better methods to recycle wastes, and find ways to reduce the creation and use of toxic compounds in manufacturing.

Companies prefer injection, he said, because it s cheaper than these other options.

The advocacy group, based in Falls Church, Va., has tracked 43 leaks at U.S. industrial-injection wells since 1973.

Of those incidents, 22 contaminated groundwater.

U.S. EPA records list 473 industrial-waste wells nationwide, most of them clustered in Texas, Florida, and Louisiana.

Ohio at one point had 17 wells, but seven have been shut down since 1970, Mr. Lowe said.

The list includes a Waste Management Inc. hazardous-waste disposal site in Sandusky County.

In 1984, the company agreed to pay $20 million in fines and cleanup costs to remove oil lagoons that contained PCBs and dioxins.

It also agreed to rebuild wells that leaked 45 million gallons of waste above the sandstone layer.

Mr. Lowe said the leaked wastes won t reach groundwater.

There is approximately a half-mile of rock in between, he said.

Mr. Lowe and Steve Lonneman, Waste Management s general manager for the site, said the company hasn t had another leak.

It injected 36.2 million pounds of wastes last year, including nitric acid and chromium.

The Ohio EPA said there have been no leaks at wells near an Ineos Nitriles plant in Lima. The chemical plant injected 209.2 million gallons of wastewater last year.



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