EERC one of two agencies nationwide chosen to receive DOE award

Carbon capture research in the Bakken recently got a $3.5 million booster from the Department of Energy, and it’s going to help the state realize a regional vision that’s seeking economically viable uses for carbon dioxide, after which it could be stored permanently deep underground.

The University of North Dakota’s Environmental and Energy Research Center is among a handful of labs nationwide leading the charge on this type of research, and one of just two agencies to receive a portion of $7 million in funds for carbon dioxide research.

“This new award really fits with our state’s regional vision,” said Charlie Gorecki, with the EERC. “As well as our partner’s regional vision, where we are capturing carbon dioxide from sources like power plants, ethanol facilities and the like and putting that carbon dioxide to work, as opposed to putting it into the atmosphere.”

The DOE award will be used to set up a field laboratory with Synergy Oil and Gas in the South Central Cut Bank oil field in Montana that will investigate carbon dioxide’s use in enhanced oil recovery, as well as its ultimate final storage. What is learned at the lab will help advance similar storage in the Williston Basin.

The project offered stacked opportunities for enhanced oil recovery using carbon dioxide in a depleted well, as well as a residual oil zone where oil couldn’t be produced, according to Gorecki.

During this project, carbon dioxide in a supercritical state (similar to a liquid but still a gas) will be injected into the well in hopes that it can displace enough trapped oil to get it flowing into the well again.

“We will be looking at how the carbon dioxide is trapped or stored as a normal part of the operation, as well as in the residual oil zones, and how we can apply that to conventional reservoirs and residual oil zones throughout the region, many of which are in North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming,” Gorecki said.

In addition to figuring out how much more oil the carbon dioxide can bring out of the well, the study will also look at how much carbon dioxide is retained underground during the process. The economics of the process will also be considered. So if you were going to capture say, 6.5 tons of carbon dioxide in a year from a plant, and use that for enhanced oil recovery, the data from the project should help determine how much oil could be expected back for that investment.

“That way we can look at the whole value chain across the board,” Gorecki said.

The carbon dioxide that has been injected into the well will stay in the ground. In the supercritical state, it’s similar to oil, which is a buoyant liquid. Underground, it will remain under high pressure, which will keep it in that supercritical state.

Once the project is completed, all of what was being reused to force oil out of the rock can then be put back in the ground for good. And it will stay there thanks to the many layers of shale rock and impermeable salts that presently keep Bakken oil from making its way to the surface.

“But for the shale layers, oil would just come bubbling up itself. In fact, that’s how we found it in the first place back in the late 1800s,” Gorecki said. “Those places have already demonstrated the ability to store buoyant fluids for millions of years.”

North Dakota has storage space for hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide in its conventional reservoirs alone, said Ed Steadman, also working on the C02 project with EERC. If a process can be figured out for Bakken wells as well, that’s another vast reservoir that could be used to hold hundreds of millions more tons of carbon dioxide as well.

“The only bigger target would be in Texas,” Steadman said. “This process would also be viable in Montana and Wyoming.”

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