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Title: Health, safety, and environmental risks from energy production: A year-long reality check

Abstract

Large-scale carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) offers the benefit of reducing CO{sub 2} emissions and thereby mitigating climate change risk, but it will also bring its own health, safety, and environmental risks. Curtis M. Oldenburg, Editor-in-Chief, considers these risks in the context of the broader picture of energy production. Over the last year, there have been major acute health, safety, and environmental (HSE) consequences related to accidents involving energy production from every major primary energy source. These are, in chronological order: (i) the Upper Big Branch (coal) Mine disaster, (ii) the Gulf of Mexico Macondo (oil) well blowout, (iii) the San Bruno (natural gas) pipeline leak and explosion, and (iv) the Fukushima (nuclear) reactor radioactivity releases. Briefly, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, when natural methane in the mine ignited, causing the deaths of 29 miners, the worst coal mine disaster in the USA since 1970. Fifteen days later, the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a blowout, with a gas explosion and fire on the floating drilling platform that killed 11 people. The oil and gas continued to flow out of the well at the seafloor untilmore » July 15, 2010, spilling a total of approximately 5 million barrels of oil into the sea. On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch (76-cm) buried, steel, natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, leaked gas and exploded in a residential neighborhood, killing 8 people in their homes and burning a total of 38 homes. Flames were up to 1000 ft (300 m) high, and the initial explosion itself reportedly measured 1.1 on the Richter scale. Finally, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan's main island, Honshu, caused a tsunami that crippled the backup power and associated cooling systems for six reactor cores and their spent fuel storage tanks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. At time of writing, workers trying to bring the crisis under control have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, and radioactive water and particulates have been released to the sea and atmosphere. These four disasters, all of which occurred within the past 12 months, were not unprecedented; similar events differing only in detail have happened around the world before, and such events will occur again. Today, developed nations primarily use fossil fuels to create affordable energy for comforts such as lighting, heating and air-conditioning, refrigeration, transportation, education, and entertainment, as well as for powering manufacturing, which creates jobs and a wealth of material goods. In addition to the risks of the existing energy infrastructure that have become obvious through these recent disasters, there is also the ongoing risk of climate change that comes from the vast emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily CO{sub 2}, from the burning of fossil fuels. The implementation of CO{sub 2} capture and storage (CCS) will help mitigate CO{sub 2} emissions from fossil fuel energy, but it also carries with it HSE risks. In my personal interactions with the public and with students, the main concern voiced is whether CO{sub 2} could leak out of the deep reservoirs into which it is injected and rise up out of the ground, smothering people and animals at the ground surface. Another concern expressed is that CO{sub 2} pipelines could fail and cause similar gaseous plumes of CO{sub 2}. The widespread concerns about CO{sub 2} leaking out over the ground surface may be inspired by events that have happened within natural systems in equatorial Africa, in Indonesia, and in Italy. Researchers have been investigating a wide variety of HSE risks of geologic CO{sub 2} storage for some time and have determined that wells are the main potential pathways for significant leakage from the deep subsurface. I discuss the acute HSE risks of CO{sub 2} leakage through wells and from pipelines, and compare the behavior of failures in CO{sub 2} wells and pipelines with oil and gas analogues from which most of our experience derives.« less

Authors:
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. (LBNL), Berkeley, CA (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
Earth Sciences Division
OSTI Identifier:
1051635
Report Number(s):
LBNL-5132E
Journal ID: ISSN 2152-3878
DOE Contract Number:  
DE-AC02-05CH11231
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Journal Name:
Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 1; Journal Issue: 2; Related Information: Journal Publication Date: 2011; Journal ID: ISSN 2152-3878
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
54 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES; 58 GEOSCIENCES

Citation Formats

Oldenburg, C M. Health, safety, and environmental risks from energy production: A year-long reality check. United States: N. p., 2011. Web. doi:10.1002/ghg.22.
Oldenburg, C M. Health, safety, and environmental risks from energy production: A year-long reality check. United States. doi:10.1002/ghg.22.
Oldenburg, C M. Fri . "Health, safety, and environmental risks from energy production: A year-long reality check". United States. doi:10.1002/ghg.22. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1051635.
@article{osti_1051635,
title = {Health, safety, and environmental risks from energy production: A year-long reality check},
author = {Oldenburg, C M},
abstractNote = {Large-scale carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) offers the benefit of reducing CO{sub 2} emissions and thereby mitigating climate change risk, but it will also bring its own health, safety, and environmental risks. Curtis M. Oldenburg, Editor-in-Chief, considers these risks in the context of the broader picture of energy production. Over the last year, there have been major acute health, safety, and environmental (HSE) consequences related to accidents involving energy production from every major primary energy source. These are, in chronological order: (i) the Upper Big Branch (coal) Mine disaster, (ii) the Gulf of Mexico Macondo (oil) well blowout, (iii) the San Bruno (natural gas) pipeline leak and explosion, and (iv) the Fukushima (nuclear) reactor radioactivity releases. Briefly, the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster occurred in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, when natural methane in the mine ignited, causing the deaths of 29 miners, the worst coal mine disaster in the USA since 1970. Fifteen days later, the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico suffered a blowout, with a gas explosion and fire on the floating drilling platform that killed 11 people. The oil and gas continued to flow out of the well at the seafloor until July 15, 2010, spilling a total of approximately 5 million barrels of oil into the sea. On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch (76-cm) buried, steel, natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, California, leaked gas and exploded in a residential neighborhood, killing 8 people in their homes and burning a total of 38 homes. Flames were up to 1000 ft (300 m) high, and the initial explosion itself reportedly measured 1.1 on the Richter scale. Finally, on March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan's main island, Honshu, caused a tsunami that crippled the backup power and associated cooling systems for six reactor cores and their spent fuel storage tanks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. At time of writing, workers trying to bring the crisis under control have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, and radioactive water and particulates have been released to the sea and atmosphere. These four disasters, all of which occurred within the past 12 months, were not unprecedented; similar events differing only in detail have happened around the world before, and such events will occur again. Today, developed nations primarily use fossil fuels to create affordable energy for comforts such as lighting, heating and air-conditioning, refrigeration, transportation, education, and entertainment, as well as for powering manufacturing, which creates jobs and a wealth of material goods. In addition to the risks of the existing energy infrastructure that have become obvious through these recent disasters, there is also the ongoing risk of climate change that comes from the vast emissions of greenhouse gases, primarily CO{sub 2}, from the burning of fossil fuels. The implementation of CO{sub 2} capture and storage (CCS) will help mitigate CO{sub 2} emissions from fossil fuel energy, but it also carries with it HSE risks. In my personal interactions with the public and with students, the main concern voiced is whether CO{sub 2} could leak out of the deep reservoirs into which it is injected and rise up out of the ground, smothering people and animals at the ground surface. Another concern expressed is that CO{sub 2} pipelines could fail and cause similar gaseous plumes of CO{sub 2}. The widespread concerns about CO{sub 2} leaking out over the ground surface may be inspired by events that have happened within natural systems in equatorial Africa, in Indonesia, and in Italy. Researchers have been investigating a wide variety of HSE risks of geologic CO{sub 2} storage for some time and have determined that wells are the main potential pathways for significant leakage from the deep subsurface. I discuss the acute HSE risks of CO{sub 2} leakage through wells and from pipelines, and compare the behavior of failures in CO{sub 2} wells and pipelines with oil and gas analogues from which most of our experience derives.},
doi = {10.1002/ghg.22},
journal = {Greenhouse Gases: Science and Technology},
issn = {2152-3878},
number = 2,
volume = 1,
place = {United States},
year = {2011},
month = {4}
}