Tamar Hallerman
GHG Monitor

A California state senator reintroduced legislation this week aimed at clarifying subsurface pore space ownership and patching regulatory gaps for the permitting of carbon capture and storage projects within the state. On the first day of the legislative session in Sacramento, Sen. Michael Rubio, a Democrat who represents a district near Bakersfield, introduced S.B. 34, a bill aimed at clarifying existing laws and regulatory authorities related to CCS and enhanced oil recovery in California. “Despite the existence of comprehensive federal CCS regulations, impediments to the deployment of CCS technology in California remain, including specific gaps in California laws and regulation,” the text of the legislation states. The bill:

  • Underscores that subsurface pore space ownership in California lies with the surface landowner;
  • Reasserts a previous provision from AB 32, the state’s landmark 2006 climate law, which requires the state Air Resources Board to adopt final protocols for CCS projects by 2016;
  • Ensures that CCS and EOR projects aimed at permanently sequestering injected CO2 are considered eligible emissions reduction technologies under AB 32; and
  • Clarifies the authority of the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the State Fire Marshal to regulate CO2 injection for EOR and intrastate pipelines, respectively.

Rubio said passage the bill would “set an important tone” early in the legislative session that clean energy and job creation are not mutually exclusive. “The business community and environmental groups throughout California understand that SB 34 will have a positive impact on California’s economic and environmental future,” Rubio said.

Bill Could Be Considered Soon

The language in the legislation is largely recycled from a bill considered by the state legislature earlier this year. While that measure, which won the support of some environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council, easily sailed through the state Senate, it stalled in committee during consideration by the state Assembly this summer. However, this version of the CCS bill could see movement soon given that the Democrats, which currently hold supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature, are expected to lose that advantage over the next several months as multiple officials leave for other state government positions. That leaves the Democrats a limited window of time to pass their legislative agenda. “Particularly with the new supermajority in Sacramento, we must harness this new power and use it to put struggling Californians back to work,” Rubio said.

The language of the bill borrows several ideas from the Dec. 2010 policy recommendations of the California CCS Review Panel, a group of stakeholders commissioned by several state agencies that focused on the challenges the CCS industry faces specifically in California. The group called for “clear, efficient and consistent regulatory requirements and authority” for the permitting of CCS, as well as consistent standards for the geologic storage of CO2 and measuring, monitoring and accounting protocols, among other recommendations.

California Emissions Reduction Goals Among Nation’s Highest

Under AB 32, California adopted some of the nation’s most ambitious emissions reduction goals. The state is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the end of the decade and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The state is also beginning its cap-and-trade program on Jan. 1. But while the state and many other groups have identified CCS as a key solution to help California reach those emissions reduction goals, little action on the CCS front has occurred to date. Only one CCS project is currently moving forward in California—SCS Energy’s 390 MW Hydrogen Energy California integrated gasification combined cycle project—and it is still in the fairly early process of waiting for regulatory approval. The project, which also has an enhanced oil recovery component, is set to be located in Kern County, which is in Rubio’s district.