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Hearing of the Energy and Water Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee - Scientific Research

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Location: Washington, DC

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REP. DENNIS R. REHBERG (R-MT): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And welcome to the committee.

MR. ORBACH: Thank you.

REP. REHBERG: I've already said hello to Dixon, so I don't have to do that again.

I don't know if you're doing a good job because this is my first hearing with you, so my question has to do with the FutureGen and the change of direction within the Department of Energy. And I guess it's hard to have a sense of urgency in energy projects that take -- or research that takes 10, 15, 20 years to see fruition.

But one of the concerns that I have of any time you change directions within an agency, if it affects both the agency and the private partners, is that it creates a delay in the technology actually coming to a commercial schedule.

And so can you give me assurances that the decision that was made by the DOE is not going to delay the science of sequestration and/or carbon capture? And especially as it relates to your budget, are there changes that are having to be made within your budget to adjust for a change in direction within the Department of Energy?

MR. ORBACH: That's a very fine question. And thank you for raising it. The reason I say that is that I believe that carbon sequestration, capture and sequestration, is critical to the future of coal and of other fossil fuels for energy production. And therefore, given that coal fire-powered plants amount to 50 percent of our electricity, it's a major issue.

We have joined with Fossil Energy in a collaborative program, and in fact it's in the budget, for carbon capture and storage. And that was unaffected by the decision of the department for FutureGen.

We're working with Fossil Energy not just for FutureGen but also for the Partnership for Carbon Sequestration where they have seven sites across the country. And if you look at the budget, you will see that we've added $5 million to our already robust program in sequestration so that we can be there, on the site, with our researchers, doing basic research while the sequestration projects are being pursued. And we worked very closely with Fossil Energy developing a plan to make sure that we know where the carbon is, we can measure it, and we know where it's going when it's stored underground in saline aquifers.

So we have maintained and expanded our commitment for carbon capture and sequestration. The FutureGen referred as well to the front end, namely to the so-called carbon combined cycle gasification. And that's an area where actually, our -- (inaudible) -- computers have played a role. We've been able to optimize the gasifiers by using simulations on the high-end computers, working with metal and fossil energy.

So you are beginning to see the integration of the basic science with the applications. And this what -- and I share your view. This is a critical area for our country and indeed for the world.

REP. REHBERG: I inherited an earmark from my Senator Burns. He got earmarks in zero emissions before I got to Congress. And now that he's gone, I carried that forward. We have what's called ZERT at Montana State University.

I'm not familiar with other universities or other programs that are either within the Department of Energy or are congressionally mandated from within the existing larger budget.

Do you know if any other university projects or congressionally mandated earmarks that are working on some of the monitoring? That's what Montana State's project is. They have the capacity to monitor leakage and such, and they're working on -- it's well beyond me. I've been there, I've seen it and I still couldn't explain it to you. But it's pretty interesting. Can you tell me of any others?

MR. ORBACH: I don't know expressly, but I would be glad to answer for the record. We could check through it. But I will say that that particular issue of monitoring is critical. We need to know where that CO2 is and what its behavior is.

There's only a single example on Earth, and they're off the coast of Norway, where such experiments are being conducted. But for us in the United States, we have lots of saline aquifers into which we can pump CO2. And so for us, we have a different kind of substructure than Norway has. It's critical that we understand that.

REP. REHBERG: Would ZERT be doing something then unique that you're not doing within your budget somewhere?

MR. ORBACH: I'm afraid that I'm not familiar in detail with what they're doing. But --

REP. REHBERG: I'd like to know that as well. I'm -- you know, I'm one of those ambivalent. I can go either way on earmarks. I don't want it to be a duplication if something else is going on within the department.

But then I also fall down on the other side, and the members of the committee have heard me say, in some situations what has been authorized and appropriated and the president doesn't put into his budget makes us earmark, then the question becomes why not. I mean, if it's -- if, as you say, it's as important to the future of coal development to have carbon capture and sequestration and the ability to monitor, why do I have to keep coming to my colleagues every year to ask for a $6 million appropriation to Montana State to do something that you ought to just automatically do and give the money to Montana State?

MR. ORBACH: Well first of all, Montana State is a fine academic institution. (Laughter.) And I'm very familiar, actually, with the physics department there, which is excellent.

If you will allow me, I'd like to take a closer look --

REP. REHBERG: Okay.

MR. ORBACH: -- at what's actually being done and then return to you.

REP. REHBERG: Great. Thank you.

Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

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