BHP chief's doubts over clean coal technology
Sydney Morning Herald, March 24, 2007
The former head of BHP has punctured the optimism of the Howard Government about clean-coal technology by saying the long-term storage of the carbon waste may be as difficult as dealing with nuclear waste.
(BHP, headquartered in Australia, is one of the world's largest mining firms).
Paul Anderson, who ran BHP-Billiton in 2002 and still sits on its board, told the Herald: "People can't believe you're safe putting nuclear waste five miles under the ground when it's petrified in glass. How are they going to feel safe putting pressurised gas under the ground?
"I think it's as big as the issue of nuclear waste. What are you going to do with millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that is not nearly as compact as nuclear waste?"
The Prime Minister, John Howard, and the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, are strong supporters of clean-coal technology as a long-term solution to greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the country's dependence on coal-fired power stations and coal exports.
While Mr. Anderson is a keen backer of strategies to lower greenhouse gas emissions, he is concerned that the debate over clean coal has been steered more towards the capture of the carbon dioxide emissions at the power station rather than the problems that may arise from long-term storage.
Australia is testing several storage sites at present. However, the long-term stability of carbon storage is not known.
So far, little is known about how much clean-coal technology will cost and whether it will be feasible on the large scale needed.
The Government has expressed optimism for the past three years that in the future carbon emissions from burning coal can be captured, liquefied, transported and stored long-term in deep, stable underground sites.
The challenge of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions has risen to the top of the agenda in the nation's resource and energy companies after the Prime Minister launched a taskforce three months ago to look at whether Australia should join a carbon emissions trading scheme.
Mr. Anderson said he did not favour an emissions trading scheme. He said it was too open to "political mischief" that would allow companies to lobby for special deals or exemptions and not achieve the necessary cuts to their emissions.
While he supported a carbon tax on emissions, he acknowledged he was in the minority.
Yesterday more than 190 submissions to the taskforce were released, including one from BHP-Billiton tentatively supporting a carbon emissions trading scheme. Other companies including Rio Tinto and BP Australia are giving heavily qualified support to the scheme as they manoeuvre for the best outcome.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) submission to the taskforce supported emissions trading, but urged the Government to legislate to cut the nation's emissions by 20 to 30 per cent by 2020, matching the commitment made last week by European leaders.