MIT and U. Texas report urges combining and scaling up carbon capture and storage with enhanced oil recovery
|Schematic of a CO2 -EOR System. Components required for sequestration in brine formations that are in common with CO2 -EOR highlighted in red. Click to enlarge.|
A report from MIT and The University of Texas at Austin urges the US to accelerate efforts to pursue carbon capture and storage (CCS) in combination with enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a practice that could increase domestic oil production while significantly curbing emissions of carbon dioxide.
Widespread adoption of combining enhanced oil recovery with carbon capture and storage faces major hurdles, including development of infrastructure, regulation and economic incentives to manage supply and demand of CO2. The report, “Role of Enhanced Oil Recovery in Accelerating the Deployment of Carbon Capture and Sequestration,” the result of a symposium conducted by the MIT Energy Initiative and the Bureau of Economic Geology at The University of Texas at Austin, contends the US can overcome these obstacles with sustained research and policy leadership.
About 65 million metric tons (MT) of new CO2 are used annually for EOR in the United States. Total use is approximately 115 million MT, which include new and recycled CO2. Most of this CO2 is from natural sources and is delivered to EOR sites through a few thousand miles of commercial CO2 pipeline. This yields nearly 300K barrels of oil per day (BOPD), or just over 100 million barrels (bbl) per year—about 5% of domestic crude oil production. However, estimates of economically recoverable oil from underground injection of carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery (CO2EOR) are in the range of 35 to 50 billion barrels of oil (BBO), suggesting that larger volumes of CO2 could be employed.
Coal power plants in the US today produce about 2 billion MT of CO2 annually, about 80% of total power sector emissions. Thus, the 65 million MT of new CO2 used for EOR today represents only about 3% of coal plant emissions. 65 million MT is equivalent to that emitted by about 10 GigaWatts electric (GWe) of high efficiency (supercritical) baseload coal power plant capacity, generating a bit over 4% of coal plant electricity in the US.—Role of Enhanced Oil Recovery in Accelerating the Deployment of Carbon Capture and Sequestration
Scientists believe the principal zones for combining EOR and CCS could accommodate 3,500 gigawatt-years-equivalent of CO2 from coal power plants. This represents about 15 years of current total output of CO2 from US coal plants. Recent research suggests the potential for even greater capacity in the Permian Basin of West Texas.
As a tool for enhanced oil recovery, CO2 injected underground could boost domestic oil production by as much as three million barrels a day by 2030, according to one estimate, an increase of more than 50% over current levels. Such a boost to US energy security would simultaneously help reduce the country’s carbon footprint.
In a summary for policymakers, Ernest J. Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative, and Scott W. Tinker, director of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, make the case for an organized national CO2-EOR program using anthropogenic CO2 to “kick-start larger-scale carbon sequestration in the US and meet sequestration needs for a significant period if CO2 emissions pricing is introduced.”
Use of anthropogenic CO2 for EOR has the potential, write the co-authors, to contribute to domestic energy production while accommodating national carbon sequestration needs “for at least a couple of decades, quite possibly more.”
Given the rough equivalence between the amount of CO2 the energy industry needs for oil recovery and the amount produced by coal-fired electricity plants, the authors advocate “a serious look at scaling up CO2-EOR with government support.”
|Framework Depiction of a national CO2 pipeline network. The shaded ellipses represent three areas where very large EOR/CSS projects are active or proposed. Click to enlarge.|
Government support will be critical in part because of the complex factors that have to come together to facilitate EOR, including regulatory changes and development of a new pipeline system to get CO2 from industrial sources to oil-field sinks. First-mover CCS projects also face high financial hurdles requiring some form of financial incentives.
The authors strongly urge the Department of Energy to implement a comprehensive research and development program that:
- Provides data on permanence of CO2 storage in EOR;
- Develops the tools for end-to-end systems analysis of CO2 capture at power plants, transportation infrastructure, and stacked storage;
- Provides an analytical framework for the value proposition for power plant, pipeline, and EOR operators and for the government;
- Puts forward principles for resolving regulatory issues, such as pipeline siting and access, long-term liability, and pore rights;
- Explores the potential for EOR in ROZs [residual oil zones]; and
- Maps out a phased implementation program for CO2 -EOR, including build-out of transportation infrastructure.