CO2 use in oil recovery pushed
BY ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
4/17/12 at 4:14 AM
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Crude oil recovery is crucial both to President Barack Obama's "all of the above" energy approach and to long-term environmental goals, one of his administration's officials said Monday in Tulsa.
Charles McConnell, assistant secretary for the Office of Fossil Energy, believes that carbon dioxide injection can dramatically improve oil recovery rates and, in effect, prove a perfect marriage for both industry and environmentalists.
He was speaking during the early session of the 18th biennial Symposium on Improved Oil Recovery at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
"Enhanced oil recovery is the highest value use of CO2," McConnell said. "It's an economic driver" for administration hopes of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration.
The president's team and many scientific groups believe that CO2 produced via power plant generation and other fuel-burning means endangers air quality and causes climate change. The goal of sequestration is to reduce CO2 emissions by burying it deep underground.
Using it to push out oil and fill that void with CO2 seems like a natural solution, McConnell told visitors who came to Tulsa from all over the world Monday.
"What do you get with EOR? You get more oil out of the ground," he said. "You're taking CO2, putting it in the ground and getting it out of the atmosphere."
The natural solution is not simple nor cheap, others have noted. One attendee who questioned McConnell's plans noted that CO2 now costs about $100 per ton, when it is only economical at $50 per ton or less.
Another industry insider later said that isolating and capturing CO2 out of flue gas from power plants is time consuming and hugely expensive. The process involves compression, liquefaction of the gases and breaking them down, via a kind of fractionation, into separated parts.
McConnell conceded that carbon capture, utilization and sequestration has a long way to go in building scale that will attract investment. Some companies, however, are already doing it and some of the pipeline infrastructure is in places like west Texas' Permian Basin and North Dakota.
The U.S. can eliminate 40 percent of its need for foreign oil by using CO2 injection technologies, McConnell said.
"We're really at a crossroads," he added. "We need to choose the right path for the right reasons."
A BP researcher who also talked at the symposium worked on one EOR method for 20 years before bringing it to market. Christopher Reddick spotlighted his company's long-term commitment to using low-salinity waterflooding for enhanced oil recovery.
Companies watching their bottom line often have a low tolerance for failure with new technologies, Reddick said. The effort takes strong capabilities to experiment, external relationships such as with universities and, finally, a focused deployment of what the research and development has taught.
"The pieces of the jigsaw need to be assembled by design, not by accident," he said. "Working your way through this takes a lot of thought."
BP gave low-salinity waterflooding - in which the liquids is driven into reservoirs with the hope of forcing trapped oil out - a field trial in 2008.
The process is now focused in two BP projects, with another five being serious evaluated.
Other presenters at the Improved Oil Recovery symposium talked about using polymer gels via injection or the benefits of steam over solvent for fractured reservoirs.
Symposium spokesman Bob Williams said more than the half of the event's participates come from foreign nations.
Those included visitors from China, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Italy, among others.
The symposium is sponsored by the Society of Petroleum Engineers International.
By the numbers
Carbon dioxide-enhanced oil recovery
Source: 2010 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Energy Initiative
- Active CO2-EOR projects in the U.S.: More than 100.
- Oil production from CO2 Injection: 280,000 barrels per day.
- Estimated potential recovery: 38 billion to 58 billion barrels.
Rod Walton 918-581-8457
Charles McConnell speaks to the Improved Oil Recovery Symposium on Monday. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World