8,000 feet under: In Kentucky, quest to bury CO2 is halfway

HAWESVILLE, Ky. — Beside a cow pasture in Hancock County, scientists are drilling through 8,000 feet of rock, hoping to learn how to lock away forever an invisible gas that threatens Earth's climate and our way of life.

Science fiction? No, but it's a science experiment that, if it works, would be carried out on a scale never before seen.

The idea is to capture the carbon dioxide, or CO2, that spews into the air when coal is burned to produce electricity. The gas, which also is produced naturally, is one of the causes of global warming.

Drilling began April 24, and the work has continued around the clock. By Thursday, when the media and officials involved in the project were invited for a first look, the drill had sunk to 3,660 feet.

In another month and a half, it will stop at 8,350 feet, in so-called "basement rock" that is more than 1 billion years old. That will make it one of the deepest wells ever drilled in Kentucky.

The $8.1 million Kentucky Geological Survey project is being paid for by $1.5 million from Kentucky taxpayers, with the rest coming from Illinois, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and several companies, including E.ON U.S., the company that owns Kentucky Utilities.

The Hancock County well in Western Kentucky is one of a number of test wells in various stages around the country being coordinated by the federal Department of Energy. It was one of a $5 million package of carbon-dioxide-related projects ordered up by the General Assembly in 2007 when it approved House Bill 1.

Because coal produces more than half the nation's electricity, and 90 percent of the power in Kentucky, the legislature was trying to get ahead of what everyone agrees will be laws that limit carbon dioxide emissions.

"I know of no issue — no issue — that is any more important that this energy issue and how we will handle it," said House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, who was introduced Thursday as "the author and pusher" of HB 1.


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