Energy Dept. offers $2B loan to carbon-storage project

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Rigging equipment is pictured in a field outside of Sweetwater, Texas June 4, 2015. The small- and medium-sized firms that make up at least half of the nearly $100 billion a year U.S. oil services industry that provides fracking sand and specialized chemicals for fracking have been hit far harder than their large, cash-rich rivals by the downturn, experts say. Picture taken on June 4, 2015.   REUTERS/Cooper Neill - RTX1GZSX

Rigging equipment is pictured in a field outside of Sweetwater, Texas, on June 4, 2015. Photo by Cooper Neill/Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Energy Department said Wednesday it is offering a conditional, $2 billion loan guarantee to capture and store carbon dioxide at a planned Louisiana methanol plant, a new element of the Obama’s administration’s strategy to slow global warming.

The Lake Charles Methanol plant will use petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining, to make methanol, a chemical used in products such as paint, glue, plastics and formaldehyde.

The captured carbon dioxide will be piped to oil fields in Texas, where it will be used to speed up oil production.

The loan guarantee is the first to be offered under an advanced energy program to help promising technologies that are unable to secure private investors.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz called the loan commitment a milestone in federal efforts to capture and store carbon pollution, a key driver of global warming.

Moniz called the Lake Charles project “a big step forward” for economic development and carbon capture, an emerging technology that has so far failed to live up to its promise.

Carbon capture entails catching the carbon emissions from a coal plant or other source and injecting the gas underground for permanent storage or use in speeding oil production. If successful, carbon storage could allow continued burning of coal and other fossil fuels while releasing little of the heat-trapping gas that scientists say is the main cause of global warming.

Carbon storage is a key component of so-called clean coal, a concept that has been embraced by President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump.

Lake Charles Methanol expects to break ground next year on a $3.8 billion plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana, 140 miles east of Houston.

Don Maley, the company’s president and CEO, said in a statement that the Energy Department’s expected loan guarantee “represents the commitment of the federal government to promote innovative, clean fossil-energy technologies” and allow the project to be completed.

The project is expected to create about 1,000 construction jobs and 500 permanent jobs. The plant will produce methanol, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and other chemicals from petcoke, a waste product from the refining of heavy crude oil.

Moniz said on a conference call Wednesday that he has had “cordial” conversations with former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Trump’s nominee for energy secretary, but did not discuss the Lake Charles plant or other projects under consideration for Energy Department loans.

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