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magazine / jf08

January/February 2008 issue


Carbon cemetery
Deep under Weyburn,Sask., carbon dioxide is being pumped into the Earth instead of into the atmosphere.Could the project be a remedy for climate change?
By Allan Casey with photography by Greg Locke

From Signal Hill, the local lookout in the modest city of Weyburn, Sask., hundreds of pumpjacks can be seen bobbing on the plain below, pulling crude oil up to an energy-thirsty world. The thirstiest customer of all, the United States of America, lies just beyond the horizon, about 75 kilometres due south.



What’s not visible is something that many see as a solution to one of the great problems of our times. Is it possible that hidden under the Land of Living Skies is a simple remedy to part of the global-warming crisis? We now know that excess carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil-fuel burning — 27 billion tonnes a year and climbing fast - is heating up our atmosphere. In southern Saskatchewan, an unlikely alliance of concerned scientists and oil profiteers is testing the simple stratagem of carbon capture and storage (CCS), or putting fossil-fuel carbon back into the ground where it came from. Permanently.

It is too soon to know whether the technology, which is sometimes called carbon sequestration, can be used to turn down the greenhouse thermostat. But the Weyburn results have been promising, drawing energy gurus — scientists, government leaders, journalists — from Japan, Italy, London and Washington. Like pilgrims, they climb Signal Hill to pose for snapshots against the vast prairie sky, a fitting reminder of the global stakes.

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