Clean Coal's Underground Real Estate Boom

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Coal is too dirty for America to continue consuming at the current rate, yet too plentiful to ignore. Yesterday I explored whether natural gas could serve as a stand-in. Another potential solution, as every coal-state resident can explain, is the paradoxically named "clean coal." If coal plants trapped or converted the carbon dioxide they would normally spew into the atmosphere, coal could become an environmentally viable option.

Debate rages over the technological feasibility and actual cleanliness of this scheme, but the Obama administration has signaled its commitment to exploring the option. Steven Chu, the Secretary of Energy, has called for widespread, affordable deployment of carbon sequestration technology within the next decade. And the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill, to be unveiled on Monday, is rumored to contain incentives for this technology.

States, too, are preparing for an age of carbon sequestration. New Mexico is currently weighing a bill to clear up ownership rights for space beneath residents' land, a measure already taken by Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota. One method of carbon sequestration involves pumping the gas underground, so these states are predicting a new kind of real estate boom.   

Kurt Zenz House of carbon capture start-up C12 Energy, however, worries that this boom could be hampered by federal land rights obstacles. Testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, he explained difficulties C12 could encounter in Western areas where private and public lands often abut. Gas that C12 injects beneath land that it leases from private owners could spread to public land, which would be much harder to lease. To avoid such obstacles, House recommends the government take an active role in facilitating carbon storage projects on public lands.

Interior Secretary Salazar, take note.

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Nicole Allan is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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