It’s a frigid day for Mississippi, and Barbara Correro’s oven-warmed kitchen is packed with women – neighbors who’ve gathered to share their opinions and dish the latest gossip.
Correro does her community organizing the Southern way: a hearty meal, complete with gold-rimmed china plates and pitchers of sweet tea; there’s also coconut cake, pecan pie, and pralines.
It’s a small army of naysayers and rabble-rousers, and some feel a little concerned about giving me their names. (“This is where I’m getting all the oranges and eggs thrown at me in town,” said local resident Claudia Rowland with a nervous laugh.)
Other locals I meet email me later to request anonymity.
Now that the Kemper County landscape is so radically transformed, resistance can feel futile – and unpopular: There’s just no stopping it now.
Barbara Correro, in her kitchen.
Still, these locals have their doubts.
Water, for instance, is on everyone’s mind: “Kemper County is known for its water,” Correro says.
Mississippi Power’s property buts up against Chickasawhay Creek, which runs through her backyard.
Chickasawhay Creek runs to Okatibbee Lake, a nearby reservoir where many Kemper County residents fish.
Mississippi Power maintains that the plant is a “zero liquid discharge facility” and that “none of the water used to generate electricity will end up in surrounding streams and rivers.”
That does not apply to rainwater that falls on site, however, and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has nevertheless granted the facility water discharge permits naming those very bodies of water.
“This permit is just an emergency permit for extraordinary situations,” says Harry Wilson, who does permitting for the MDEQ.
“They’re a consumer of water — they don’t need to release water.
I would consider the coal entity’s permits to be quite restrictive.”
But nobody in the room believes that any time there’s a heavy rain, it won’t just wash the plant’s byproducts into the river.
Nobody in the room believes that the hazardous chemicals to be isolated at the plant – sulfuric acid, anhydrous ammonia – are being effectively captured prior to combustion; they only know the chemicals are going to be manufactured and trucked along local roads, and that anhydrous ammonia is a key ingredient in both fertilizer and powerful homemade bombs.
And many express misgivings about the land reclamation practices at the Red Hills lignite mine to the north, pointing to puny pine trees and desert-like conditions.
“No matter how much topsoil they put back, it will be contaminated,” argues resident Ginger McKee.
The company has done little to assuage their fears.
There were a handful of safety meetings and there were hearings in Jackson, but, says local resident Jennifer Pletcher, “It’s like, ‘Thank you very much, your three minutes are up, we appreciate you telling us how you feel, and see you later.’”
And none of this touches the broader concerns about the plant that have nothing to do with its impacts on local land, air, and water.
Pletcher points out that Mississippi Power’s federal grants and tax write-offs only require it to attempt to build the carbon-capturing equipment.
According to an analysis by carbon policy consulting group Element VI, both the DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative and IRS code section 48A, under which the plant has received $412 million in tax breaks, use vague language such as “intent to capture and geologically sequester,” “plans to capture and sequester,” and “includes equipment which separates and sequesters.”
If the price of CO2 sales doesn’t exceed the cost of carbon capture, analysts argue, Southern Company has very little incentive to keep its promises; it only has to prove that it tried. (“We are both confident in and committed to our plan to capture 65 percent of CO2 produced by the plant,” a Mississippi Power representative wrote in an email.)
It takes about 20 to 30 percent more coal, in the end, to power a coal plant that aims to clean up after itself.
Then, there’s what many critics – including oilman Thomas Blanton – call the project’s biggest irony: The carbon captured from the plant will be used to extract more fossil fuels.
An integral part of the Kemper project’s financial plan is to sell its captured CO2 to companies that will use it to coax oil out of decades-old wells using a process called ” enhanced oil recovery.”
According to Mississippi Power’s website, it has contracted with two companies, Denbury Resources and Midstream Treetop Services, to send the CO2 down a 61-mile pipeline.
The plan: “to find oil that was previously unreachable.”
According to a Denbury Resources petroleum engineer, enhanced oil recovery can keep more CO2 under the ground than a barrel of oil will put back into the atmosphere.
But even his calculation leaves slim margins: at best, about 65 percent of what’s gained from carbon storage is cancelled out by burning the additional oil.
Complicating all this, too, is the fact that capturing carbon requires energy, which means producing more carbon.
Carbon dioxide should, theoretically, stay in the ground where it is “sequestered.”
Geologists have been researching carbon storage for some time, and feel confident that CO2 can be safely stored in the tiny pores of sandy, salty rock that are tucked under impermeable shale formations thousands of feet underground.
“The first concern people have is, ‘isn’t it all going to leak back out?’” says Curtis Oldenburg, a senior scientist and program lead for the Geologic Carbon Sequestration Program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“But that’s really, really unlikely.
If done properly, safe sites can be found and CO2 can be stored effectively and indefinitely – I have no doubt about that.”
Some researchers are nevertheless beginning to doubt: In January, geophysicists at MIT found that CO2 injected deep underground stays in a “more tenuous form” than previously thought, which means “it remains mobile and it can possibly return back to the atmosphere.”
The devil is in the details, Oldenburg concedes, particularly when those details are man-made.
“The big concern when it comes to leakage is not the natural system,” he says. “It’s the wells.”
When it mixes with water, carbon dioxide is corrosive – it dissolves iron and steel.
Industry giants such as Baker Hughes have developed corrosion inhibitors to prevent leaks and blowouts, but Thomas Blanton, who owns several oilfields, thinks it’s pointless.
“All these applications leak,” he says.
“Carbon dioxide sequestration in an oil field is science fiction standing squarely on the shoulders of a myth.”
In Mississippi, one of the largest fines the Department of Environmental Quality leveraged in the last decade was against Denbury Resources for an uncontrolled carbon dioxide blowout in 2011.
The metal casing on an abandoned well in an oilfield near Yazoo City, about 40 miles north of Jackson, had been stripped, and the 2,000-foot hole spewed carbon dioxide, drilling mud, and other chemicals for 37 days.
The CO2, heavier than air, settled in adjacent valleys and suffocated deer and other wildlife.
Local neighborhoods were evacuated, several workers were sent to area hospitals, and Denbury placed a 24-hour ambulance on site while workers toiled to clean up the mess.
Denbury Resources has been responsible for a handful of similar blowouts in Louisiana and elsewhere in Mississippi.
In 2013, carbon dioxide bubbled up in a water well near the Heidelberg oil field, where the Kemper facility’s CO2 is to be pumped.
The field is in the center of town, and buts up against the fenceline at Heidelberg High School.
Press link for more: exp.grist.org