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Carbon Management Rocks
A conversation with Jack Andreasen about carbon storage, climate policy, and beautiful geologies 🪨
👋 Hi, dear 1,142 climate buddies 🌳
What is this? This newsletter explores topics in climate, energy, and everything in between.
Today, we’ll take a break from the series about climate storytelling. I’m happy to share our third Delphi Zero interview with my friend Jack Andreasen - U.S. Policy & Carbon Management Expert at Breakthrough Energy ⚡️
In this conversation, we discuss the the why, how, and what of carbon storage 🪨
Carbon Management Rocks
By Art Lapinsch
How did you get into energy/climate? Was there a defining moment that you can remember? What surprised you when you entered the industry?
I got into climate in my undergraduate programs on ecosystem ecology.
That was my gateway into understanding how ecosystems (in this case, the relationship between carbon sinks and acorn-producing shrubs) are dealing with changing baseline conditions like water accessibility.
From there, my first introduction to the energy world, formally, came in my graduate schoolwork at Indiana. I was always aware of how energy systems interact with the public, the climate, and politics but never held any deep beliefs or knowledge.
Your Linkedin title says “Carbon Middle Management”. How do you explain to friends what you do? How did end up there?
Yeah, that title is a bit tongue and cheek but totally accurate.
I generally explain what I do as working to ensure beneficial carbon management solutions (technical, policy, regulatory) are able to be implemented in the real world.
I do this by funding organizations that are working towards these ends, direct engagement with policy makers and educational/communications campaigns.
Or for short, I work in climate policy.
I ended up at Breakthrough by meandering post-graduate school from a large, regulated utility, to a left-leaning climate advocacy group and finally landing at Breakthrough.
I’ve always been interested in carbon management and it took me a few years after graduation to find the correct fit.
Can you give us the 80/20 of this problem area? Why did you decide to focus on carbon management rather than on other problems?
I came about the carbon management world from the downstream side: storage.
My mentor John Rupp is a retired carbon storage researcher and geologist by training. He introduced me to the concept at Indiana and got me a job at the Indiana Geologic and Water Survey where I was able to learn, and do some light technical work on the Illinois Basin. Those years culminated in me realizing two things:
CO2 storage is safe and proven plus have so much quality storage reservoir capacity that the supply of CO2 to those reservoirs is the choke point. Put another way, we need the CC part of CCS to scale rapidly because the S part is very well known and documented.
Aside from these points, much of the climate world is skeptical of CCS, and understandably so. I thought I could add a bit of technical education and communication to the policy side of that discussion.
The most succinct way to describe my interest here is, we know we need to do it, we know how to do it, we just need policy to support it. I wanted to make and/or support that policy.
You wrestle with policies on a daily basis. What are the most common misconceptions about your line of work? Why do you think people have such a hard time grasping what’s going on in energy & climate policy?
People are very concerned with CCS and DAC allowing for the continued burning of fossil fuels, also called the Moral Hazard argument. I absolutely understand this argument, it has validity, and I think about it in all the policy I read and write.
However, there’s a moral hazard to not doing CCS and DAC too. What if we don’t find alternatives to cement, and steel production, at scale and cost of current day tech? What if we get to net-zero and need DAC to draw down CO2 to return to pre-industrial levels?
I firmly believe we need to have climate alternatives to products today that are act cost and scale parity with current fossil fuel produced products. We cannot expect most people in the world to pay more for a climate friendly alternative.
Whatever way that has to happen, solar, wind, batteries, geothermal, hydrogen, CCS etc. I am for exploring and deploying. We need the entire tool kit. And I think that is the most difficult thing to grasp.
We need all these tools, and we need them at scale yesterday.
What is something that you have changed your mind about since working in the climate space? What is something you have doubled down on?
I really changed my mind on CCS, I thought it was a complete boondoggle and not necessary for the clean transition. And from reading papers, talking with experts, examining the IPCC and IEA reports it’s just abundantly clear we will need it to some scale.
I am more bullish on CO2 storage than when I started. If we can capture or remove it, we can store it. In all the beautiful carbon receiving geologies.
Do you have a favorite policy instrument to combat climate change? If yes, what is it and why does it stand out relative to other policy instruments?
I think broadly speaking carrots work better than sticks, in the US context.
At the end of the day, the best policy is the one that gets passed. And tax policies that provide carrots, a la 45Q, are bipartisan and durable. And that is the best you can hope for at the federal level.
What are the biggest regulatory hurdles to get to net zero? Why do they exist and what would be your best guess how to resolve them?
We need to permit more Class VI wells for permanent Co2 storage, and they need to be permitted faster.
The EPA knows this an is working on staffing up and providing applicants with resources to more efficiently handle their permits. Alongside this, if a state can prove that they have the resources and expertise to administer their own Class VI program in a way that is as rigorous or more than the federal EPA, they can be granted primacy over those Class VI wells. Without these wells we cannot store Co2 at scale.
We need them permitted, safely, and quickly. We are staking steps in that direction but we need to be taking leaps.
☝️ Comment Art: If you want to dive deeper into this topic, read Jack’s three-part series on Class VI wells:
Inject baby inject! → History of injection and state of permitting
Billions and billions → Impact of IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) and IRA (Inflation Reduction Act) on geological storage
Next Gen Class VI Storage → Technical deep-dive into sedimentary basins
You write a Substack publication called “Carbon Miners Club”. How and why did you get started?
I started writing my Substack to encourage me to continue writing for a general public and to educate that public on fairly myopic areas.
I was looking for an outlet and Substack seemed like the best medium. From there it has been a struggle to publish regularly, but I enjoy getting information out in the world for people to use.
Why is climate policy worth dedicating an entire career to it? Can everyone do it?
Everyone can do it, and it’s fulfilling because I know I’m trying to make a better world for my kids, grandkids and future generations.
We can do better, and we are.
Imagine a person without policy experience is joining your team. What would you teach them in the first 30 days to grow into the role?
Meet as many people as possible 🤝
Listen as much as you can 🎧
Find the points of disagreement in the policy community and understand both sides of the argument ⚔️
Then start to map out how your experiences, expertise, organization and passion can work to unwind those points of disagreement.
The future is a policy choice and often, that choice starts with compromise.
What is the most valuable idea you teach people on a regular basis? Why is it so little understood? Why is it valuable?
I am a noted and constant shill for the safety of Co2 storage.
We’ve stored hundreds of millions of tons of Co2 in the subsurface since the 1990s and have had no leaks. That’s an incredible safety record. It’s little understood because Co2 storage is a very niche portion of the climate world, and because it is, on it’s face, a little wild.
Without my training, if I heard someone was pumping supercritical fluids 8,000 feet underground into rocks, and that it would stay there forever, eventually turning back into a stone, I would be very skeptical.
It sounds wild.
And yet that’s not only we are doing, but it is what we will continue to need to do to meet our climate goals.
As we look back from a net-zero future, what do you hope they will say about us?
I hope they say we tried as hard as we could to build a better future.
We may not always agree on the destination, but we do on the direction.
🙏 Thanks Jack for sharing your insights with us.
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Let me know what you liked and what you disliked. What do you want to have more of?
As always, stay healthy, stay happy ✌️