Gazing across a rejuvenated old West Texas oil field, Larry Adams
sings the praises of carbon dioxide.
That might seem odd. The gas is linked to global warming, which
has prompted calls from governments and environmentalists alike to
reduce oil use. But here at the SACROC field in America's fading oil
belt, CO2 is providing the boost the industry needs.
By pumping the greenhouse gas deep underground, oil companies are
squeezing out more oil and providing new life to fields that have
been declining for decades. But if the companies can capture the
carbon dioxide that other industries produce, then the greenhouse
gas may become cheap and plentiful enough to be a boon to Big Oil.
"This process of using CO2 for enhanced oil recovery is just a
niche today, but if other man-made sources became available, it
could become a boom," says Mr. Adams, CO2 engineering manager for
Kinder Morgan, the nation's largest transporter of CO2 for enhanced
oil recovery or EOR.
The Houston-based company mines most of its CO2 from natural
deposits in Colorado. It pipes the gas to West Texas oil fields
where it is injected a mile beneath the surface. Despite steady
growth in EOR production since 2000, it accounts for only about 5
percent of US production - some 240,000 barrels a day.
Now, Kinder Morgan and a few other companies envision greatly
expanding that amount - if they can transport CO2 emissions that
would be captured by power plants, cement factories, and other
Capturing carbon dioxide at plants and factories - rather than
spewing it into the atmosphere - is one of the few near-term
solutions to global warming that's receiving serious consideration.
Under this scenario, companies would bury the greenhouse gases they
produce in deep saline aquifers - a process called sequestration.
Some environmentalists say EOR could speed the move to
"We see EOR as a great ally for carbon sequestration," says A.
Scott Anderson, energy policy adviser for Environmental Defense, a
New York-based environmental group.
With the natural CO2 available for EOR in short supply, a few
companies are scrambling to begin collecting some of the 6 billion
tons of carbon dioxide that the US emits each year. If enough of
this man-made gas were made available, it could quadruple America's
recoverable oil reserves to an estimated 89 billion barrels, the US
Energy Department reported last year.
Among the projects under way or under consideration:
* Blue Source, LLC, a company that helps businesses slash their
carbon emissions, announced a deal last month to capture CO2
emissions from a Kansas fertilizer plant and inject it into an aging
oil field nearby. …