Getting the legal lowdown on CCS

Newly appointed legal fellow of the Global CCS institute Dr Meredith Gibbs says appropriate legal frameworks could drive the adoption of carbon capture and storage technology.

Staff Reporter

She also wants to create a clear picture of what would be an effective enforcement regime.

International Coal News sister publication WME caught up with Gibbs to get her thoughts on her recent appointment, what she hopes to achieve during her time at the institute and what the current state of the sector is, in regards to support for the technology.

WME: What does it mean to you to be appointed the first legal fellow for the Global CCS institute?

Gibbs: It’s a great honour and opportunity to work with the institute and investigate the kind of legal frameworks that are going to facilitate CCS as a viable low-carbon technology.

For me, that’s important because I think that we need to have all of the possible low-carbon technologies on the table. CCS needs to be researched further because it is one of the only technologies able to deliver significant emission reductions from the continued use of fossil fuels and certain industrial processes like steel-making and cement manufacturing.

If there’s going to be any continued use of fossil fuels, which seems likely, then CCS needs to be on the table for consideration - even if only as a transition technology. One of the things that would enable that is to have appropriate legal frameworks in place globally, and my research is about what those legal frameworks need to look like.

WME: What research or initiatives will you be involved with?

Gibbs: I will look at the attributes or key ingredients of an effective enforcement regime for the underground storage of carbon dioxide. For example, the requirements for monitoring and verification of storage sites.

Once carbon dioxide is stored underground in suitable geological formations, it is important to know how the site will be monitored, what sort of reporting requirements will be in place, and how the requirements of the legal regime will be enforced by relevant administrative bodies.

WME: How long will the project go on for and what will the process entail?

Gibbs: The fellowship is for six months, and I’ll be delivering the research at the end of that period. Also, throughout the six-month fellowship I will be posting insights and blogs on the institute's website, while also facilitating a technical workshop on monitoring and verification. The idea with the workshop is that we get the scientists and technicians in the same room with the lawyers to have a cross-disciplinary discussion about what is possible, where the technology is going, and to align the regulatory requirements with the technical capability.

In addition, at the end of the six-month period I will give a public presentation on my research findings.

WME: Currently, why isn’t there a great deal of public and industry support for CCS? How can we increase their confidence in it?

Gibbs: I think that the low public support for CCS stems from a lack of knowledge - people think that the technology doesn’t work.

However, the various technologies that make up the CCS chain have all been in operation in various industries for many years, but they haven’t necessarily all been put together in one project, and they haven’t necessarily been done at the kind of scale that would need to be developed to significantly reduce carbon emissions. So a key issue - and this is what the institute is focused on promoting - is getting some more large-scale, full chain CCS operations in place so as to test the technologies at scale and learn from these demonstration projects.

A significant public information campaign would be required in order to properly explain CCS and its risks to the general public. But it's interesting to note that where community engagement has occurred around demonstration projects, local communities have become very comfortable with the technology - that is, when people have an opportunity to really understand it.

Another key issue that needs to be addressed is the long-term liability for the unlikely situation where something does go wrong and there is harm caused. A lot of regimes around the world haven’t yet adequately dealt with that issue.

WME: Besides education, what other factors can come into play to help foster confidence in this technology?

Gibbs: The first is having a strong regulatory regime for CCS. In Australia we have quite a well-developed legal regime for underground storage – we’ve got the Commonwealth and Victorian offshore regimes, as well as regimes in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia for onshore sequestration, while some other states have produced draft legislation.

The second is having policy that promotes low-carbon technologies. In Australia, we don’t have the kind of policy settings that would promote CCS at the moment. For example, without a price on carbon and in the absence of direct requirements, it's unlikely that CCS will be viable.

WME: Best-case scenario, what would you like to achieve as a fellow of the institute and what changes would you like to see in the sector?

Gibbs: My goal is to have a really clear picture of what is required for an effective enforcement regime for the underground storage of carbon dioxide, so as to promote confidence that CCS can be introduced here or abroad.

I hope my work will contribute to allaying some of the public's fears around the technology and building confidence that effective risk management processes can be put in place.

My research will also be looking at the regimes in Japan, China and Malaysia – so it would be great if the work that I am doing could be used by those countries to further develop their CCS legal regimes locally.

This article first appeared on affiliate publication WME.

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