For Immediate Release, June 29, 2022

Contact:

Genevieve Amsalem, Central California Environmental Justice Network, (248) 860-0852, genevieve.amsalem@ccejn.org
Victoria Bogdan Tejeda, Center for Biological Diversity, (724) 317-7029, vbogdantejeda@biologicaldiversity.org

EPA Urged to Reject Carbon Capture Projects in Central California

Applications Lack Critical Details, Threaten Communities

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— Citing threats to the environment and public health, more than 80 environmental justice and conservation groups urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today to stop an influx of carbon capture, use and storage, or CCUS, project applications in California’s Central Valley.

The EPA is currently considering six applications and says at least 12 more are on the horizon in California. Long-term carbon capture, use and storage has never been used in the state before.

The proposed projects would resurrect or prolong the life of polluting industrial facilities in predominantly low-income neighborhoods of color that already experience some of the worst air quality in the country.

“The San Joaquin Valley is the most polluted air basin in the United States for fine particles,” said Catherine Garoupa White, Ph.D., executive director of the Central Valley Air Quality Coalition and co-chair of the California Air Resources Board Environmental Justice Advisory Committee. “Frontline communities of color and low-income communities are already overburdened with air pollution, which human-caused climate impacts are only worsening. Instead of perpetuating old, dirty fossil fuel-based infrastructure in environmental justice neighborhoods, we should invest in clean, renewable energy and reliable, equitable storage.”

Fossil fuel giants have promoted carbon capture and storage as a tool for cutting emissions for more than a decade, with little to show for it. Injecting and storing carbon is also dangerous to communities, since compressed carbon leaks can cause suffocation and death, and carbon pipelines are widely recognized as being dangerous and underregulated.

The groups are calling on the EPA to deny the carbon injection permits for carbon capture and storage projects. Groups are also asking for commitments to accessibility and transparency during public comment periods, and they want the agency to consider only applications that disclose all project components and their potential harms. They believe such scrutiny will ultimately require the EPA to reject these projects.

Earlier this year, EPA’s Region 9 office requested that a CCUS project withdraw its permit application, citing changes to the application and the applicant’s failure to supply financial assurances. The EPA also visited the community in Mendota, California, where the proposed project would have been built. It is this type of scrutiny and community engagement that advocates hope will continue.

“Mendota residents in a mobile home park just half a mile from the proposed carbon capture project felt relief when they heard that the application was withdrawn, and they are grateful to Administrator Martha Guzman,” said Nayamin Martinez, executive director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “They shared with her that when the biomass plant was active, it caused many of their children to be diagnosed with asthma as infants. They said they fear living so close to a place where carbon would be stored underground. And they feel especially vulnerable because Mendota owns only one ambulance, and the closest hospital is 50 miles away. Mendota is just an example of what’s at stake in other Central Valley communities where carbon capture projects are being considered. Residents of these communities should not be forced to live in fear and exposed to unsafe and unproven technologies.”

One of the first projects being considered is California Resources Corporation’s proposed carbon capture and sequestration project at the Elk Hills oilfield in western Kern County. The Center for Biological Diversity also submitted comments today opposing this project.

The company wants to convert decades-old oil and gas wells into injection wells that would store 48 million metric tons of carbon dioxide beneath the oilfield. Many details, including where the carbon dioxide will come from, how it will be transported, and exactly how long injection operations will last, have not been disclosed.

“Oil companies can’t pretend to be climate saviors when carbon capture projects will keep their dirty industry alive and prevent a small fraction of their emissions at best,” said Victoria Bogdan Tejeda, an attorney at the Center’s Climate Law Institute. “We need to transition to renewable energy now, not put time and money into risky, expensive projects that perpetuate environmental injustice.”

The most likely source of the carbon for the Elk Hills CCS project is the gas plant powering operations at the oilfield. The application proposes to add CCS to the facility for a period of 26 years or more. That would extend the life of the plant and the extraction it enables beyond 2045, the date that Gov. Newsom has directed oil drilling to be phased out across the state. The operator also notes that captured carbon may be transported within a quarter mile of a school.

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Proposed biomass with carbon capture and storage facility in Mendota, Calif. Courtesy Center for Biological Diversity. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.