Tiny Bug – Giant Financial Risk

Recently, we published discussions related to various risks associated with certain aspects of corporate carbon management programs – planning, calculations and reporting.  But we have had discussions with clients about other risks specifically posed by sequestration techniques.

Today, a Reuters report provides stark evidence of the reality of a disastrous threat to forestry sequestration: the tiny pine beetle. Infestations of the insect cause huge impacts:

In Colorado, aerial surveys show that from 1996 to 2008 Colorado lost almost 2.5 million acres (1 million hectares) of pine forest to the beetle outbreak, Wyoming 677,000 acres and South Dakota 354,000 acres.

Over the same period of time, the spruce beetle, which has also ravaged forests as far north as Alaska, took out 374,000 acres of spruce trees in Colorado and 340,000 in Wyoming.

That cumulative total of over 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares) is an area larger than Israel or South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

As the excerpt states, this is the impact over 12 years.  Commercially-viable forestry sequestion projects typically span 15 to 30 years.  The article stated that Colorado-based U.S. Forest Service scientist Mike Ryan is concerned that pine beetle destruction may lead to forests changing from carbon sinks to net emitters due to carbon releases from the increase in dead timber.

This would mean big problems for companies who have made investments or developed strategies that include forestry sequestration.

Geologic or subsurface seuqestration has also garnered attention.  But this brings an even wider range of exposures – third party damages.  Two scenarios include:

  • Equipment failures or human errors related to the technology for capturing, preparing and injecting CO2 emissions into the subsurface receptor
  • Releases from the receptor itself.

There are many instances of process equipment failures or human errors in industrial settings that have lead to catastrophic events.  Just earlier this week an unidentified chemical release at a household waste transfer station sent more than 100 people to the hospital and triggered a full HAZMAT response by emergency authorities.

What may be less known are instances and impacts of massive CO2 releases from natural “storage”.  Perhaps the most dramatic and relevant is the 1986 Lake Nyos disaster in Cameroon where 1700 people lost their lives.

As CO2 regulation moves forward in the US, thorough identification of risks and solutions becomes imperative.

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