Montezuma CarbonHub: A dangerous distraction from real climate solutions

Great White Egret standing on green marsh grasses near gently flowing body of water

These days, even the oil and gas industry admits that greenhouse gas emissions are a bad thing. It’s agreed—before our planet becomes uninhabitable, we need to stop insulating it with carbon dioxide (CO2) from our power plants, refineries, tailpipes and so on. Fortunately, safe, affordable, proven ways to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions already exist: solar and wind power. The fossil fuel industry is a dinosaur, and it’s time for that dinosaur to go extinct.

Burning the stuff is not the only problem

The oil and gas companies, fighting to survive, are staking everything on Carbon Capture and Storage, or CCS. It’s okay to keep burning fossil fuels, they say—we’ll just grab the emissions and stick them far underground. CCS enables them to continue their business as usual while claiming it’s safe for the planet—the ultimate green-washing scam.

The whole process of extracting, transporting, and refining fossil fuels requires vast amounts of energy and does horrific damage to the environment—burning the coal, oil, and gas is just part of the problem. And these fossil fuels aren’t a sustainable energy source; Nature needed millions of years to produce the petroleum, and there’s only so much.

CCS is basically more of this unsustainable, destructive technology: more drilling, more pipelines, more ecosystem degradation. And it doesn’t even work! Despite decades of development and billions of dollars of investment, CCS has proven consistently to be ineffective, unsafe, economically unsound, and unnecessary. We prefer to call it Carbon Waste Dumping.

Carbon Waste Dumping in the Bay Area: Montezuma CarbonHub

The proposed Montezuma NorCal Carbon Sequestration Hub would drill a huge injection well under wetlands in southern Solano County, across Suisun Bay from Pittsburg. Carbon dioxide from oil refineries and power plants in Contra Costa and Solano would be collected and transported to the wetlands by barge and pipeline.

This project, one of more than twenty Carbon Waste Dumping projects currently proposed in California, poses serious risks to public health and wildlife. And it would perpetuate environmental injustice in our frontline communities.

Risking catastrophe

Before carbon dioxide can be transported and injected into a well, it must be compressed into a very cold liquid. When this liquid CO2 leaks into the air, it turns back into gas and spreads quickly, remaining low because it’s heavier than the air.

This dense cloud asphyxiates humans and animals, and it disables all gas-powered cars and trucks.

CO2 pipelines are especially difficult to build and protect against leaks; any tiny amount of water in the pipeline creates a corrosive acid that leads to long “zipper” fractures.

In 2020, a CO2 pipeline leaked into the small town of Sartartia, Mississippi. More than 300 people were evacuated, and 45 were hospitalized. Townspeople were found unconscious, foaming at the mouth, or roaming around like zombies. Many still suffer from long-term health consequences of the disaster.

Here in earthquake-prone California especially, CO2 pipelines are simply too big a risk.

Few or no safety regulations in place

Across the country, CO2 pipelines are un- or under-regulated. The federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is working on a regulatory overhaul, but those regulations are still several years away. California currently has no regulations governing how CO2 is moved in pipelines. The state has even imposed a partial moratorium on building new CO2 pipelines until the federal rulemaking is complete.

Lifting the moratorium before that time could lead to a rapid, dangerous buildout of pipelines across California.

Environmental injustice

Across the country and in California, big polluters have sited their refineries and power plants in lower-income areas; as a result, these frontline communities are disproportionately suffering the health and environmental consequences of air pollution.

Now, heavily subsidized by federal and state incentive programs, the fossil fuel industry is investing in carbon dumping projects. Public funds are being used to prop up fossil fuel companies so they can continue harming these same vulnerable communities. Instead, these funds should go to phasing out the polluting facilities and cleaning up the land they sit on.

With federal tax incentives for dumping carbon waste, the Montezuma CarbonHub would enable facilities that have polluted local communities for decades—such as the PG&E power plant near Antioch—to continue polluting for decades to come.

Montezuma Wetlands LLC is hoping that affected communities in Contra Costa and Solano won’t fight Carbon Waste Dumping. But when they find out about the real dangers involved, these communities will fight for the real climate solution: a just transition to renewable energy sources.

Threats to biodiversity

The Montezuma Wetlands are supposed to restore 1800 acres of tidal wetlands in the Delta ecosystem and protect threatened and endangered species including the salt marsh harvest mouse, salmonids, Delta and longfin smelt, and the California least tern. Drilling injection wells and building pipelines in and through this critical habitat is no way to protect these species.

Of course, any leak in the proposed 45 miles of pipelines along the Bay could asphyxiate wildlife as well as humans.

Pivoting to real climate solutions

According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, CCS is unnecessary as a climate solution.

We know what the real solutions are. We need to end this era of fossil fuels for good and ensure all communities are healthy and thriving. The billions now being pumped into Carbon Waste Dumping should instead go to cleaning up the mess the industry has left behind—and to building out a clean, renewable energy system that works for everyone.

How we can stop this project

Currently, the Montezuma CarbonHub project developers are applying to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Region 9 for a permit to drill an injection well, which they would use to dump the carbon pumped in from nearby facilities.

The EPA has the power to deny permits for this dangerous project. They will probably hold public hearings where we can testify about our concerns and urge them to do so. The project cannot move forward without the EPA permit, so it’s vitally important that they hear from as many community members as possible.

What’s more, stopping this Bay Area project is not all that’s needed. Nearly two dozen Carbon Waste Dumping projects are being proposed across the state, especially in frontline communities in the Central Valley. If we successfully stop the project in the Bay Area, we must also ensure it isn’t simply moved along and developed in those frontline communities instead.

Get Involved

The wonderful folks at Center for Biological Diversity are coordinating the efforts of many local environmental groups, including 350 Contra Costa Action, to oppose the Montezuma CarbonHub. To learn how you can get involved, please email us at Together, we can shut down this project!

Author: Editorial Team
Image Credit: Ferenc Tibodi on Pexels

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