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NEW HAVEN, W.Va. — Poking out of the ground near the smokestacks of the Mountaineer power plant here are two wells that look much like those that draw natural gas to the surface. But these are about to do something new: inject a power plant’s carbon dioxide into the earth.

A behemoth built in 1980, long before global warming stirred broad concern, Mountaineer is poised to become the world’s first coal-fired power plant to capture and bury some of the carbon dioxide it churns out. The hope is that the gas will stay deep underground for millennia rather than entering the atmosphere as a heat-trapping pollutant. The experiment, which the company says could begin in the next few days, is riveting the world’s coal-fired electricity sector, which is under growing pressure to develop technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. Visitors from as far as China and India, which are struggling with their own coal-related pollution, have been trooping through the plant. The United States still depends on coal-fired plants, many of them built decades ago, to meet half of its electricity needs. Some industry experts argue that retrofitting them could prove far more feasible than building brand new, cleaner ones. Yet the economic viability of the Mountaineer plant’s new technology, known as carbon capture and sequestration, remains uncertain.

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