CO2 Injection Boosts Oil Recovery, Captures Emissions

Technology advances, economic improvements, and environmental needs have aligned to create a "perfect storm" of growth opportunity for a proven method for enhancing oil recovery in the United States: carbon dioxide (CO2) flooding.

A watershed project in Kansas funded by the U.S. Department of Energy seeks to demonstrate that this technology's time has come, while leveraging energy security, energy efficiency, and environmental benefits in a number of ways. The payoff could be hundreds of millions of barrels of oil in Kansas that otherwise might never be produced.

Until now, enhanced oil recovery (EOR) using CO2 has not been feasible in Kansas because the largest natural sources of CO2 in the United States are hundreds of miles away. The resulting high transportation costs would doom the economic feasibility of any CO2 flood. Accordingly, all but a handful of CO2 floods are in the Permian basin of West Texas and New Mexico, not far from large deposits of CO2.

The Kansas project takes a different approach, capitalizing on the benefits of what amounts to a unique, scalable model for linked energy systems. It entails using waste heat from a 15-megawatt natural-gas-fired turbine generator to provide thermal energy for a 25 million gallon-per-year corn ethanol plant. The project then recovers some of the CO2 that is a byproduct of the fermentation process involved in corn ethanol production and uses it for a CO2 EOR flood in the Hall-Gurney field in central Kansas.

The Hall-Gurney flood represents a couple of firsts:

  • The first CO2 flood in Kansas.

  • The first time waste CO2 from an ethanol plant has been used for enhanced oil recovery.

  • Both are significant achievements. If the project proves feasible, it could open the door for CO2 floods throughout Kansas. The potential added incremental oil recovered from such an effort could total as much as 600 million barrels of oil in Kansas alone. As many as 6,000 mature oilfields in the state could be saved from abandonment—not to mention the thousands of jobs created from implementing these projects.

    CO2 EOR projects are proliferating in the United States as operating costs of these projects and CO2 prices have dropped sharply in recent years. Given the immense volumes of bypassed oil in America's thousands of mature or declining oilfields, and expectations for persistently high oil prices, expanding CO2 EOR efforts sound like an idea whose time has come.

    Furthermore, an enhanced oil recovery project using industrial waste CO2 also "closes the carbon loop" by injecting underground CO2 that otherwise would be vented to the atmosphere. Such carbon sequestration efforts are the subject of intense research and government scrutiny worldwide amid growing concerns over the role that human-created CO2 emissions play in global climate change.

    Oil production from the Hall-Gurney CO2 flood started up in May 2004, following 6 months of CO2 injection. The pilot project is using only 10 percent of the CO2 stream from the ethanol plant at Russell, Kan., from which the gas is trucked 7 miles to the field site.

    One such ethanol plant could supply a small oilfield, capable of producing 5 million barrels of oil and sequestering 1.5 million tons of CO2, for 20 years. If CO2 flooding were implemented across the entire Hall-Gurney oilfield, it would require CO2 waste gas volumes from the equivalent of five such ethanol plants.

    Combined, the benefits from integrating power, ethanol production, enhanced oil recovery, and CO2 sequestration could total $88 million over 10 years, if all of the plant's CO2 were used.

    DOE has been funding research into CO2 EOR since the late 1970s. The big commercial expansion of CO2 flooding in U.S. oilfields that began in the 1980s would not have been possible without the groundbreaking fundamental research funded by the Energy Department. The Office of Fossil Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory continues to manage a host of DOE-funded CO2 EOR research and demonstration projects, even as oil company spending for basic EOR research and development has declined in recent years.

    The Kansas project is managed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory in partnership with the Kansas Geological Society at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kinder Morgan CO2 Co. L.P. (Houston), Murfin Drilling Co. (Wichita, Kan.), MV Energy (Princeton, N.J.), ICM Inc. (Colwich, Kan.), and the Kansas Department of Commerce.
    Company: U.S. Department of Energy more info
     - The Future of Ice Gas (Jun 23)
     - Daniel Poneman, Deputy US Energy Secretary, To Step Down (Jun 19)
     - DOE Expands Methane Hydrates Research (Nov 21)