US Senator Bingaman aims to jump-start CCS with a bill addressing liability | Global CCS Institute

All but lost in the din in the effort to pass a federal budget, a bi-partisan senate bill has re-surfaced that breathes fresh hope for U.S. federal support for carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS.

Introduced on March 31, and authored by Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, the bill addresses the central question of liability facing new CCS projects.

While carbon dioxide has been used for decades for enhanced recovery in oil bearing rock formations, less is known about how the gas will behave in salt and other geological formations being considered for CCS.

“The liability question is one of the main impediments for the technology to penetrate more widely,” said Salo Zalemyer, an attorney at Bracewell & Giuliani Environmental Strategies Group in Washington who I spoke with about the bill’s prospects.

“And ultimately that technology hasn’t been adequately tested out yet.” Without some liability shield in place, at least for early movers, progress will be slowed, he said.

Senate bill S.699 authorizes the Energy Dept to set up agreements, providing technical and financial support, for up to ten large-scale CCS projects. Qualified projects would inject at least 1 million tons of carbon dioxide from industrial sources.

David Wagner, a lawyer at Environmental Law Review points out, that besides laying out liability terms, the bill also outlines procedures for long-term management of CCS sites:

To pave the way, proposed bill offers liability protection and federal indemnification for the CCS demonstration projects. Under the bill, DOE is authorized to indemnify projects up to $10 billion for personal, property and environmental damages that might be above what is covered by insurance or other financial assurance measures. Upon receiving the closure certificate for the injection site, the site may be turned over to the federal government for long-term site management and ownership. The proposed bill also outlines criteria for site closure certification and includes provisions for siting the demonstration projects on public land. In addition, it would establish and fund a CCS training program for state regulators.

The bill enjoys bi-partisan support from other Senators from big energy states. In addition to Bingaman, DemocratJay Rockefeller (West Virginia) signed on. The Republican co-sponsors are John Barasso (Wyoming) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

Prospects for passage are typically murky at this early stage.

This is Bingaman’s second try with CCS: The proposed law is similar to a bill he sponsored in 2009. With bipartisan co-sponsors S. 1013 made it out of committee to the Senate floor, but didn’t make the cut with a broader energy legislative package later that year.

Bingaman’s 2011 do-over version has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and if it proceeds would next face a public hearing at an uncertain date in the future.

Officially, S.699 is titled: “A bill to authorize the Secretary of Energy to carry out a program to demonstrate the commercial application of integrated systems for long-term geological storage of carbon dioxide, and for other purposes.”

Check out the full text here, S.699.IS.