Putting Carbon Dioxide to Work

Nov 28, 2012

Innovation is helping increase American energy production. A prime example is hydraulic fracturing, which is the reason for oil and gas booms in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.

The U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy released a report on another technology, Carbon Dioxide Enhanced Oil Recovery (CO2 EOR), that can continue increasing domestic energy production by producing more oil from existing wells.

At the beginning of an oil well’s life only natural pressure is needed for oil to flow. Later, that pressure falls and water has to be injected into the ground to produce more oil. But the utility of this diminishes. The next step is pumping CO2 into the rock formation to recover more oil. The end result is oil pumped up and CO2 safely trapped below. See the graphic below.

This technology is already being used to squeeze 350,000 barrels a day, nearly 6% of daily U.S. onshore production, primarily in Texas and New Mexico. Expanded use of CO2 EOR could mean vast quantities of oil. From the report:

An analysis commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects potential oil resources recoverable with CO2 EOR of up to 137 billion barrels, with 67 billion barrels economically recoverable at a price of $85 a barrel. This represents more than three times the current U.S. proven reserves.

This additional production would mean more jobs, investment, and revenues to cash-strapped federal and state governments.

Another plus to this technology is its environmental benefit. CO2 used to recover oil currently comes from underground sources, but expanded use of CO2 EOR will require more CO2. The Department of Energy estimates that 20 billion of CO2 will be needed to recover 67 billion barrels of oil. An obvious source is capturing the gas from factories and power plants that would otherwise float into the atmosphere.

While no replacement for additional oil production, CO2 EOR is another tool at hand to improve American energy production.

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