Mines seen as global-warming front
May 23, 2007
Peter Roberts has a local solution to help the environment: temporarily bury carbon dioxide, a gas widely believed to contribute to global warming, in the abandoned silver mines under Park City.
Roberts, who lives in Old Town, is promoting a theory known as ‘carbon sequestration,’ which holds that the carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere, thus reducing the amount of greenhouse gases.
He recently approached Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council but there has not been major movement on the Roberts idea. It would require significant decisions by City Hall and it is likely that Talisker Corp.-held United Park City Mines, the modern-day successor to the city’s historic silver-mining interests, would be a key figure.
The idea has not been formalized, Roberts acknowledges a trial is needed and he continues to organize a team of experts. Price tags have not been projected but Roberts is not seeking taxpayer money. City Hall, meanwhile, is worried about ramifications, especially on the drinking-water supply.
Roberts, who is 43 years old and lives in Old Town, is an activist and he is a ceramic artist who designs kilns and furnaces. His efforts to combat carbon-dioxide emissions, put out in large quantities by cars, industry and electricity-producing power plants, were not well publicized before he approached the elected officials. He says he is an unpaid consultant.
He describes an idea in which the carbon dioxide is cooled in the underground mines. Once it is cooled, it can be shipped through a pipeline that travels between Montana and Texas.
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"There are hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines throughout the world," Roberts says.
Park City was settled as a silver-mining camp in the 19th century and as the industry boomed tunnels were dug underneath wide swaths of the surface. The silver market slumped and the mining ceased as tourism became the dominant segment of the Park City economy, leaving the abandoned mines below the surface.
He says there is a "giant commercial demand" for carbon dioxide, including in the oil industry, which he says uses it for extracting oil. Roberts says crews pump the carbon dioxide into the ground while they are searching for oil to make it easier to bring the oil to the surface.
He also mentions carbonated-beverage makers as another potential market.
Locally, Roberts says, the carbon dioxide would be cooled, not stored. He hopes to conduct a trial using burning natural gas and methane to produce carbon dioxide but the details have not been finalized. He says, though, the test may last between one week and one month. The carbon dioxide produced during the test would be pumped underground.
In a short letter to Roberts in April, Gary Hill, who manages City Hall’s budget but at the time was acting city manager, says City Hall wants Roberts to continue the research "since it is a viable tool" in reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. But Hill cautions that City Hall wants "additional information on environmental impacts prior to our support." Hill notes 25 percent of Park City’s water is supplied through the mines, where Roberts proposes to pump the carbon dioxide.
Roberts does not seek funding from the local government, according to a memo distributed to the elected officials by Alison Butz, who handles some of City Hall’s environmental programs.
His idea fits broadly into City Hall’s wide-ranging efforts to make Park City what is known as a ‘sustainable community,’ or one that does not stress the environment. doing so, officials say Park City combats global warming through various means like driving vehicles that use alternative fuels and embracing wind-generated power as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels. Many Parkites see themselves as environmentally aware and it seems the Roberts idea could win support locally.
Roberts says, perhaps, the technology he is promoting could provide tax credits for firms using the process and he says the technology could be patented and licensed to other users.
"I’m concerned about the environment," Roberts says. "It’s that simple."