I grew up in the small town of Basalt, Colorado, in the shadow of Basalt mountain, so I was pleased to read a recent article in the High Country News about the potential power of that igneous rock to sequester greenhouse gases. As any resident of my hometown can tell you, Basalt is extremely porous, and according to one scientist at the Battelle National Laboratory in Washington state, its many holes may make the rock an ideal repository for excess carbon dioxide.
For many years, Pete McGrail has been studying the massive Basalt deposits of the Columbia River Basin. In lab tests, he’s found that the rock can transform gaseous carbon dioxide into the mineral calcium carbonate when placed under heat and pressure of the sort found about 3,000 feet underground. What’s more, this reaction occurrs in a period of “weeks or months,” minimizing the window in which gaseous releases could occurr. Dig down into the rock and you’ll find alternating layers of porous Basalt and harder sedimentary rock, which could act as a natural cap for the greenhouse gases injected therein.
It will be at least three years before McGrail completes field tests in Wallula, Washington that could yield a better idea of whether this technology will work at all. The potential issues are more than can be counted on two hands; they include contamination of aquifers, leaks caused by earthquakes, and many more. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that sequestration could allow us to keep on burning the cheap and dirty coal that provides about half of America’s electricity today. (For more on the myriad benefits of coal, check out this hilarious video).
All my reservations aside, I’m glad that the many virtues of Basalt are finally becoming apparent to a larger audience. After all, the rock filtered our water for many years, and just look how I turned out…