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Dig the coal, bury the carbon

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Also important: climate-change legislation under consideration in Congress that could, Mr. Book says, pump some $75 billion into CCS development over the next 25 years.

But Midwestern states are not waiting on Washington. In Ken­tucky, plans are moving ahead for a coal-gasification pow­er plant. In Illinois, a consortium of businesses is racing to develop the high-profile FutureGen coal-power project, which could capture from 60 to 90 percent of its emissions and pump them underground.

In January, Illinois adopted a “clean coal portfolio” law that requires state utilities by 2015 to get 5 percent of their electricity from power plants that capture CO2 emissions and store them permanently underground. It also sets a goal of 25 percent “clean coal” by 2025.

But first, researchers such as Sallie Greenberg, an environmental geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey, need to prove that the geology can hold CO2 under pressure in perpetuity.

She’s standing here in what was a Decatur, Ill., farm field, on a mud-and-gravel platform where a massive steel cap sits atop what could be the nation’s first commercial-scale CO2 injection well.

In April, researchers will begin pumping 1,000 tons of CO2 a day more than 6,000 feet into a porous sandstone layer far below aquifers that provide drinking water. That layer, known as the Mount Simon, should hold the CO2 for eons beneath a 300-foot shale cap, she says.

“We will monitor this site for at least three years and know in some detail whether or not CO2 is escaping,” she says. “But we think the geology shows a high likelihood the CO2 will stay down.”

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