red trail energy carbon storage reservoir

A map outlining Red Trail Energy's carbon storage reservoir. 

It’s a first for the state and the nation as a whole, but it’s not likely to be the only one for long. North Dakota has put its stamp of approval on its first Class VI carbon storage project.

North Dakota Industrial Commission has given Red Trail Energy the green light for its carbon storage project in Richardton, where the company wants to produces a premium, low-carbon ethanol fuel it plans to market in California. Their project is likely just the first of many to come, but it is a moment that has been 18 years in the making, North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Director Lynn Helms told North Dakota Industrial Commissioners on Tuesday.

It is a landmark not only for the state, but the nation as well. While EPA has approved two other Class VI carbon storage projects, this is the first to be permitted by a state with Class VI authority. Wyoming is so the only other state with Class VI primacy.

Researchers started evaluating North Dakota’s geologic storage resources 18 years ago, Helms told NDIC Commissioners, and the state began putting a statutory and regulatory framework in place 12 years ago.

“We spent six years working with EPA to get to the primacy level,” he added.

Gov. Doug Burgum said it puts North Dakota in a remarkable position, and he isn’t the only one to think so. Biden’s Energy Secretary, Jennifer Granholm, thinks so as well.

“We actually had the energy secretary there last week with Senator Hoeven and you probably saw that she actually said it was a gift to the nation, describing North Dakota’s CCUS storage capability,” he said. “And having that without the regulatory framework for the rules would mean nothing. So it was great to have that come out of her mouth when she was there.”

Red Trail’s project required three orders, written by North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources for approval by the North Dakota Industrial Commission. Together, the orders grant permission to Red Trail Energy to geologically store 180,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide produced annually at the company’s Richardton facility. The carbon dioxide will be dehydrated and compressed prior to injection into the Broom Creek Formation for permanent geologic storage. That stream of carbon dioxide will be 99 percent pure, Helms said.

The first order North Dakota Industrial Commissioners approved outlined the parameters of the 300-foot thick Broom Creek storage reservoir, which encloses an area of 5 square miles. That order required the company to conduct a number of studies to verify the proposed reservoir is a suitable storage space. Geologically there are no fault or fractures near the Red Trail Storage facility that could create a leak point, and the system will be equipped with a state-of-the-art leak detection system using fiber optic cables for leak detection.

It was the second order, however, that Helms said is truly unique.

That order stitches together, or amalgamates, all of the pore spaces in the storage reservoir into one unit, ensuring everyone involved is fairly compensated, Helms said.

So far, the company has 67 percent signup from the affected pore space owners, Helms said, and is on track to end the process at 91 percent.

“You are the only body in the country that has the authority to statutorily amalgamate the other 33 percent that haven’t signed yet,” Helms said. “So it’s unique. But it’s absolutely essential to do a project like this. Otherwise, you can’t guarantee that everyone’s being compensated and compensated equitably.”

The reservoir must be monitored over time to ensure fair compensation, Helms added. That will involve complicated modeling with three-dimensional simulators for the storage space, to ensure those outside the defined area area not being affected.

“No one outside that box should be able to make a claim that their pore space is being affected at all by this,” Helms said. “Now as we start to try to take advantage of all of North Dakota’s pore space, we are going to have to work with storage facilities that become near neighbors or next door neighbors, to make sure they have cooperative agreements, because they’re going to be impacting each others’ pressure front.”

Extensive modeling will be done over time, to ensure interactions are a known factor in the future. Helms said that’s important, so the state doesn’t waste any pore space by having to space things too far apart.

“The most efficient use means that we have cooperative agreements and we manage these things so we use every square foot, cubic foot, of pore space that we have,” Helms said.

The Broom Creek is not only a fabulous storage formation, but is also abundant, Helms added.

“Pretty much everything south of the Missouri River and south and west of the Missouri River as it traverses through the state has Broom Creek,” he said. “So fabulous storage formation. There’s no hydrocarbons in the Broom Creek anywhere in the state, so we don’t have to worry about that.”

The salinity of water in the Broom Creek is well over 10,000 ppm, Helms added, making it unsuitable for drinking water.

The last order in the set requires bonds for plugging and reclamation at $125,000 per well, as well as insurance for 10 years post-project for monitoring and site care, to ensure the plume is stable long-term, after which the state will take over responsibility for the reservoir. The order also mandates a $16 million dollar remedial response insurance requirement, in case there is a problem such as a leak.

All of those bonding and insurance items are already in place, Helms said, though the remedial insurance figure might drop in time.

“Once we get things up and running and we have a chance to spend more time looking at the risk, so we think the current literature overestimates the risks,” he said. “But there aren’t very many, there aren’t any projects up and running. So these numbers will be looked at five years from now as well.”

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