The Oklahoma Conservation Commission has initiated a Carbon Sequestration Certification Program. The program is designed to assist Oklahoma landowners and companies to take advantage of opportunities created by recently-established national and global carbon markets. Gov. Brad Henry approved rules for the carbon program on July 3.

The carbon program is the first of its kind in the nation. The Conservation Commission will certify and verify emission offsets in an effort to protect buyers and sellers.

“What the Conservation Commission has done is create an added layer of assurance that buyers of CO2 offsets are getting what they pay for and offset providers are selling a high quality product that did not harm water, soil, or air quality,” said Stacy Hansen, director of the carbon program. “We also want the public to understand that the state is not buying or selling carbon offsets. We have merely set standards and protocols to assure a quality product for those who are.” Any offset that goes through the voluntary program and meets criteria is eligible to become a State Verified Offset and may then be marketed as such. Carbon offsets that meet quality standards and carry the state’s certification are expected to be valued more highly and as a result may be worth more money when sold. The Conservation Commission expects to begin accepting applications for the program in the fall.

Carbon markets have been established as a way to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Many companies are already taking steps to reduce or offset their emissions, and they are paying to do so. Others are buying up offsets in hopes of using or selling them at a profit should the price of carbon rise higher. An emission offset occurs when greenhouse gases are removed from the atmosphere and stored in vegetation, soil, or underground. For example, trees take in CO2 during photosynthesis so a certain number of trees can offset a certain amount of CO2 by storing it in their trunks, roots, and soil. Grasslands and soils under no-till agriculture also store more carbon than degraded lands or soils under conventional tillage. Carbon can also be stored deep underground in geologic formations. The burgeoning demand for emission reductions and offsets is driving up the price of carbon, which topped $7 per metric ton in 2008, twice what it was last year.