CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia has begun pumping carbon dioxide underground to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, using a technology that locks dangerous gases deep in the Earth.
Officials opened a plant in southern Victoria state on Wednesday that they said would capture and compress 110,231 tons of carbon dioxide from industry emissions and then inject it 6,500 feet underground into a depleted natural gas reservoir.
The research and demonstration project has been developed with federal and state government support.
Australia is one of only a handful of places that uses the technology, known as geosequestration, and environmentalists immediately criticized the project as a token gesture that distracts from the bigger goal of getting industry to slash emissions.
The minority Greens political party said the project would achieve little and should be abandoned in favor of plans that would achieve much bigger emission cuts.
The project "is government-funded PR for the coal sector and would be a perfect place to start for a government looking to find budget cuts," Green Party Sen. Christine Milne said.
Officials said scientists at the site would monitor the reservoir to measure gas leaks and other factors, with the ultimate aim of demonstrating that geosequestration is a safe, viable way to combat global warming on a large scale.
"The project has a very important role in demonstrating the technical and environmental feasibility of geosequestration to Australia and the world and preparing the way for its widespread application," Peter Cook, the project's chief executive, said in a statement.
The technology is similar to that used at about 144 sites in the United States, where carbon dioxide is injected underground to help recover oil reserves.
Since 1996, 1.1 million tons of carbon dioxide a year have been injected under the Sleiper oil field in the North Sea and about the same amount under Algeria's In Salah gas fields in the past two years.