The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Storing Carbon

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted October 21, 2009

The Weyburn oil field in southern Saskatchewan is the largest greenhouse gas storage facility in Canada. Under a project sponsored by the International Energy Agency, academic institutions and industry partners, the oil field is being injected with carbon dioxide (CO2) piped from a North Dakota coal gasification plant. By injecting CO2 into the oil-bearing rock formation, it's believed that the oil field's life could be extended by 25 years while providing storage for 20 million tons of CO2.

The potential demand for carbon capture and storage is immense. At present, fossil fuels account for 85 percent of the energy consumed worldwide every day. In the United States, 6 billion tons of CO2 is produced annually by power plants, vehicles and homes. About 2.9 billion metric tons of CO2 is produced every year from large U.S. stationary sources. It's been estimated that the United States might have enough storage capacity for 3,900 billion metric tons of CO2.

The oil and natural gas industry routinely handles carbon dioxide which has to be separated from raw natural gas to make is suitable for shipment. And CO2 has been injected into porous rock formations for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) for more than 30 years.

While carbon injection appears to offer a promising solution to some environmental concerns, there are several technical hurdles that must be addressed:

1- The physical underground formations must have characteristics that make them suitable for long-term storage.

2- The existing network of CO2 pipelines would need to be greatly expanded to transport huge volumes of captured CO2 from stationary sources to injection wells.

3- The cost of capturing carbon dioxide currently can be very expensive, but industry is working with researchers to lower these costs.

API is working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the Environmental Protection Agency on underground injection regulations. This is a critical first step toward large-scale deployment carbon capture and storage.