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Understanding carbon capture and storage prospects in Pennsylvania

April 15, 2024 Work Area: Carbon Capture

Carbon capture and storage is critical to near-term decarbonization in Pennsylvania. With the Commonwealth’s robust fossil fuel-based energy generation and industrial economy, the state ranked 4th in carbon emissions in the U.S. in 2021, over half of which are attributed to its power sector and industry. While other emerging decarbonization technologies for industry and power generation continue to develop, carbon capture and storage is a commercially available technology that can help decarbonize existing emissions and even address certain emission sources that aren’t likely to have low-carbon alternatives.

While provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) have improved carbon capture’s economic feasibility and accessibility to Pennsylvania’s industry, barriers to transporting and storing the CO2 remain, chiefly the need to confirm the availability of adequate geologic storage capacity given the lack of existing and publicly available data. In this blog, CATF examines the distribution of facility-level emissions and estimates potential storage capacity of the most data-rich storage formations in Pennsylvania, emphasizing the need for additional characterization. The supporting geologic analysis, performed by Advanced Resources International (ARI), is based on limited publicly available data supplemented by an ARI data set.

If Pennsylvania wants to be serious about decarbonizing industry and enabling the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2), the state needs to take policy action and fund characterization efforts including the targeted drilling of new geologic test wells.

Deploying carbon capture can significantly reduce emissions from critical hard-to-abate industries in Pennsylvania

Carbon capture and storage is particularly important for decarbonizing hard-to-abate industries in Pennsylvania, including steel, cement, and petrochemical production. These sectors have few or no alternative decarbonization options due to inherent process emissions that occur during chemical reactions, such as the calcination of limestone to produce calcium oxide for cement or the blast furnace-basic oxygen furnace (BF-BOF) route for primary steel production.

Pennsylvania’s industrial sector emitted almost 25 million metric tons of CO2 in 2022, with about 25% coming from the metals sector including iron and steel production, followed by 20% from the minerals sector including cement, lime, and glass production. The remaining industrial sectors, pulp and paper, waste, natural gas processing, chemicals, and petroleum refining together made up just over 49% of the total with the balance of 6% falling into the “other” category.

CATF Analysis of EPA GHGRP data

The use of carbon capture and storage can allow carbon dioxide emitting facilities to decarbonize, and capture retrofit projects have the potential to improve air quality through the reduction of non-CO2 emissions while still maintaining existing operations and expanding the workforce. Capturing and storing CO2 emissions is a key strategy Pennsylvania should deploy to significantly reduce emissions while maintaining the economic engine of the state.

More facilities in Pennsylvania are eligible for 45Q tax credits thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act

Despite the technological maturity of carbon capture, economic challenges remain, as underscored in a 2022 report from Team Pennsylvania. Under the 2022 policy environment, many emissions sources in Pennsylvania were not economic to capture. Facility-level carbon capture costs depend on the volumetric flow rate of flue gas, as well as its CO2 concentration and purity. Moreover, transport and storage costs depend on factors like distance to the storage site, scale, monitoring, and geologic considerations. The Inflation Reduction Act provided critical enhancements to the 45Q tax credit, which offers economic incentives for carbon capture and storage.

CATF analysis found that the recent IRA enhancements allowed an additional 140 facilities in Pennsylvania emitting more than 7.5 million metric tons of CO2 in 2022 to become eligible for 45Q incentives, up from the 79 previously eligible. Those 219 eligible facilities in Pennsylvania (that are above the current IRS thresholds for receiving 45Q tax credits) produced direct CO2 emissions totaling 82.5 million metric tons in 2022.1 These 219 sources are distributed relatively evenly from east to west across the Commonwealth. Table 1 provides an overview of the eligible facilities by sector, based on reported 2022 emissions.

Type of FacilityNo. of FacilitiesTotal 2022 Emissions Above
45Q Threshold (metric tons CO2 per year)
Electricity Generation5957,592,571
Minerals (Cement, Glass, Lime)194,894,670
Natural Gas Processing502,520,899
Petroleum Refining52,061,904
Pulp and Paper92,949,208

Pennsylvania has options for storing captured carbon, but key questions about capacity remain

With the need for carbon capture comes the need for carbon storage. In a typical capture system, carbon dioxide is captured at the point of emission, transported to a storage site, and injected deep underground for permanent geologic storage. Fortunately, much of Pennsylvania is situated in the Appalachian Basin, which hosts many deep sedimentary rocks that could be suitable for geologic carbon storage.

Pennsylvania has multiple geologic formations in the western and northern portions of the Commonwealth that could serve as potential carbon storage reservoirs. Estimates of deep saline aquifer CO2 storage capacity in Pennsylvania range from 2.4 billion metric tons to 75.6 billion metric tons. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the total saline storage potential in Pennsylvania (medium estimate) is 17.34 billion metric tons — enough capacity to sequester the equivalent of all of PA’s direct CO2 emissions in 2022 — or approximately 100 million metric tons of CO2, every year for the next 170 years.

However, these high-level estimates likely far exceed realistic commercial storage potential, as they do not factor in field-measured injectivity, which is the ease with which fluids like carbon dioxide can flow through geologic formations. To better understand and verify storage potential in Pennsylvania, a more detailed geologic assessment is necessary.

To this end, CATF commissioned a technical report assessing geologic storage opportunities by Advanced Resources International. Key findings from the report are as follows:

  • The Knox, Oriskany, Lockport, Onondaga, Bass Islands, and Medina formations served as the basis of an assessment due to their sufficient, publicly available data. All formations lie in Central or Western Pennsylvania, and the best formations appear to be the Lockport and Knox formations, with combined theoretical CO2 storage capacities totaling 510 to 1,640 million metric tons. These figures represent a higher-confidence estimate of true storage capacity than previous analysis and signal promising potential. As more formations are characterized and more data is available for closer analysis, confidence of true storage capacity will increase.
Target FormationStorage Capacity in Areas Above 2.0 Metric Tons per Square Mile at 7.4 – 24% Assumed Storage Efficiency (thousand metric tons)
Onondaga0 – 1,641
Oriskany0 – 57
Bass Islands0 – 0
Lockport112,021 – 337,522
Medina0 – 23,848
Knox401,400 – 1,304,267
Total513,421 – 1,667,335
Most Viable Only: Lockport and Knox513,421 – 1,641,789
  • Based on publicly available data from analog oil fields and information in the National Carbon Sequestration Database, these formations are mostly characterized by very low permeability, which may make CO2 injection at commercially viable rates challenging. Existing data is limited, and additional data will be required to determine the viability of these formations for commercial-scale storage at large facilities.
  • Other possible storage options exist in Pennsylvania outside of deep saline aquifers, which are the focus of this report. The most promising of these alternatives is storage in depleted oil and gas fields. While data on formations in depleted oil and gas fields is generally more widely available, the high density of abandoned wells makes secure storage in these fields potentially more challenging. Storage in the Marcellus and Utica shales may also be feasible but will require additional testing to determine feasibility. Additionally, other storage opportunities may exist in states west of Pennsylvania or offshore in the Mid-Atlantic.
  • In most cases, CO2 pipelines will likely be necessary to transport CO2 from where it is captured to where it will be stored, due to geologic considerations of the emissions site and the geographical distribution of sources. This is particularly true for the 109 45Q-eligible facilities emitting more than 50 million metric tons of CO2 in the eastern part of the Commonwealth, where the geology is likely not suitable for storage.

More characterization work is needed to better understand Pennsylvania’s storage potential

A key challenge to identifying suitable commercial-scale storage sites in Pennsylvania is the relative lack of publicly available subsurface data for deep saline formations. Despite the long history of oil and gas exploration in the Commonwealth, publicly available data required for carbon storage capacity assessment (e.g., wireline logs, core-derived porosity and permeability data, reservoir tests, etc.) are sparse for deep saline formations. This lack of data highlights the need for additional geologic characterization work in Pennsylvania. Very deep saline formations in the Commonwealth are often poorly understood but could serve as potential carbon storage reservoirs once properly characterized.

Below is a brief history of existing work and funding to characterize the geologic potential for CO2 storage in Pennsylvania.

Existing work and funding to characterize the geologic potential for CO2 storage in Pennsylvania

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) provides links to carbon capture and storage studies conducted by the Bureau of Geological Survey, including the 2009 report titled “Geologic Carbon Sequestration Opportunities in Pennsylvania.”
  • Following the conclusion of the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (MRCSP), the Midwest Regional Carbon Initiative (MRCI) was founded to continue building on the foundation laid by MRCSP to move the region towards readiness for deployment of commercial-scale carbon capture and storage. Final technical reports from the MRCSP and a comprehensive database of Pennsylvania resources can be found in MRCI’s Regional Database.
  • In 2023, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) announced a funding award for the Central Appalachian Partnership for Carbon Storage, a DCNR-led effort that hopes to build on the work of MRCSP & MRCI to “construct a free, public-facing web-based tool with comprehensive datasets and information needed to inform CO2 storage permitting efforts.”

Recommendations for success in Pennsylvania

In sum, the geologic storage report finds that Pennsylvania has emission sources that likely will require carbon capture and storage in order to achieve emission reductions. There are geologic storage opportunities for that carbon dioxide within Pennsylvania, but further characterization efforts including the drilling of new test wells are needed to confirm viability. In addition, CO2 pipelines will likely be required for large-scale carbon capture and storage operations. Verifying CO2 storage capacity is even more relevant given the recent announcement of ARCH2’s selection for award negotiations. The ARCH2 hub includes multiple projects that plan to produce hydrogen via the reforming of natural gas paired with carbon capture and storage in the central and western parts of the state.

Opportunities for enabling carbon capture and storage in PA include: 

  • State policy framework. Pennsylvania can better attract projects and ensure successful carbon capture and storage development by establishing a clear, robust, and meaningful legislative framework for state-level carbon capture and storage related issues. This may include:
    • Clarification of pore space ownership, establishment of unitization procedures, assumption of long-term liability following closure of carbon storage wells, requirements for environmental justice and minimization of other local impacts.
    • Establishment of administrative funding for these functions.
  • State funding. To successfully enable in-state carbon storage, Pennsylvania should fully resource the agencies and regulators who will support and provide oversight to its development. For example:
    • If Pennsylvania pursues UIC Class VI Primacy, the Department of Environmental Protection will need adequate funding and resources to oversee the permitting and implementation of the program.
    • Funding for the DCNR Bureau of Geological Survey to conduct targeted geologic characterization including new test wells should be considered as a key component of any carbon capture and storage legislation in Pennsylvania. The data collected from any government-funded efforts should be publicly available in an easy-to-access format.
  • CO2 transport. Transporting captured CO2 from emission sources to storage locations will require new CO2 pipelines. To supplement forthcoming updates to federal CO2 pipeline safety regulations, state policymakers can support responsible carbon capture and storage development by evaluating optimal CO2 transportation corridors, clarifying applicability of Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission requirements for CO2 pipelines, and supporting state and local emergency preparedness and local first responders to accommodate CO2 infrastructure.
  • Regional collaboration. Pennsylvania lawmakers should also look beyond state boundaries and collaborate with neighboring state governments to develop a multi-state infrastructure roadmap for CO2 storage and transport, including Ohio and the Midwest, West Virginia, New York, and the off-shore Mid-Atlantic region.

1 Coal-powered electricity generating facilities that have announced retirement were not included in these totals. Excluded facilities include Montour, LLC, Brunner Island, LLC, Homer City, Keystone, and Conemaugh which emitted 17.8 million metric tons of CO2 in 2022.

2 The range for each target formation represent the values for different assumed storage efficiencies. The Bass Islands and Lockport formations do not have structure maps in NATCARB.

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